Buffalo State College’s wellness staff recognizes the rippling implications physical health has on other areas of students’ lives, including academics. In the last year, the college has ramped up free exercise offerings to students and added nutritional counseling to the mix.
Rock Doyle, who became the assistant vice president for health and wellness at the Weigel Wellness Center in 2017, helped create the Orange Shirt Experience, aimed at improving students’ overall health. After a soft rollout last year, the health initiative now includes free yoga, barre, and cardio classes, plus meditation classes and “forest bathing,” a form of outdoor meditation, during the academic year.
“Wellness encompasses mind, body, and spirit,” Doyle said. “We’re making our focus with students a holistic one.”
Weigel, which treats students for illness and minor injuries as well as offers counseling, immunizations, and lab testing, reports some 14,000 encounters with students annually.
“We see as many as 100 students a day for a variety of reasons,” Doyle said. “We’re trying to balance preventive care with therapeutic care.”
One preventive measure is the Orange Dot program, which also began last year. Weigel staff members work with Chartwells to identify campus foods made from whole grains and those that have lower saturated fat and sodium content using color-coded stickers.
“It’s a way of keeping students on track and helping them make good choices,” Doyle said.
Nutrition Education Counseling Center
In an expanded effort to help students make wise food choices, the college opened the Nutrition Education Counseling Center (NECC) in Caudell Hall in early 2019. Under the direction of lecturer Elizabeth Hartz, ’15, ’16, the NECC is a partnership between Weigel and the Health, Nutrition, and Dietetics (HND) Department.
Along with individual and group nutrition evaluation and counseling sessions, the center offers nutrition seminars, cooking demonstrations, grocery store tours, and special “dine with a dietitian” events.
Hartz and her cadre of HND students who work in the center educate clients on how to read nutrition labels and navigate different diets.
“We have students come in wanting to know how many servings of fruit they should eat per day or what a carbohydrate is,” Hartz said. “Students who are dealing with autoimmune disorders, such as celiac disease, also come to us for help figuring out what to eat. Most of these clients don’t have insurance coverage for a nutritionist.”
Along with counseling space, the center features a Fit 3-D Body Scanner that records a number of wellness metrics, including body composition, waist-to-hip ratio, basal metabolic rates, posture, and balance. The tool encourages students to look beyond the scale for progress when adopting a new eating regimen.
“When we’re doing counseling, we’re cautious not to focus on calories but rather on healthy eating patterns,” Hartz said. “I tell students right off the bat, this is a judgment-free zone. There’s not one perfect answer for weight loss or whatever students’ goals are. We figure out what will work for each student.”
One of the biggest surprises, she said, is how many students skip meals, mostly because of their hectic schedules.
“I work with them to plan what types of food they will eat and when,” she said. “If they wait until the end of the day, they’re eating too much, often eating unhealthy food, and not getting the sleep they need.”
Doyle said a range of health issues—from high blood pressure to eating disorders—need to be caught early for the best chance of recovery.
“Out of the students we’ve seen for pre-hypertension, all of them saw a drop in blood pressure after going for counseling in the nutrition center,” Doyle said.
He aims to have all students get a physical and a baseline for overall health, then visit the nutrition center and commit to at least three physical activities a week.
“When students come to us, we monitor their progress throughout the semester,” he said. “We also see how they’re doing academically and mentally.”
Fitness Center and Sports Arena
Since the college opened its new state-of-the-art Fitness Center on the second floor of the Houston Gym in 2014, it’s been a popular spot for students who want to burn calories, define muscles, and combat stress.
Free to full-time undergraduate students, the Fitness Center boasts $350,000 worth of equipment that includes treadmills, elliptical machines, and StairMasters. The center also has a bevy of plate-loaded weight machines, which allow for safe and defined movements.
If students prefer to get a workout by shooting or hitting a ball, they can use the gym’s basketball courts in the evenings or play a game of racquetball in one of the three available courts. Other fitness options include swimming laps in the 25-yard Kissinger Pool or skating in the Ice Arena. Both facilities, home to the varsity swim and hockey teams, respectively, offer open swim and skate times to all students.
Doyle said that he and his colleagues encourage students to find an exercise routine that appeals to them to ensure a healthy college experience.
“A healthy body leads to positive mental health,” he said. “Students who exercise sleep better, deal with stress better, and ultimately, can achieve higher grades.”
Photos by Bruce Fox, Campus Photographer