January generally witnesses an influx of people flocking to the gym with high hopes of losing weight. For those participating in the Penn SHAPE challenge though, going to the gym is not just about losing weight, but also about an overall health gain.
On Jan. 14, close to 160 graduate school students began a four-month competition to achieve the greatest overall gain in fitness.
Penn SHAPE, or Student Health and Physical Exercise, was spearheaded through a collaboration between Graduate and Professional Student Assembly Vice Chair for Communication Susan Mello and GAPSA Vice Chair of Student Life Kilang Yanger.
“I thought if I had 30-50 people I would be excited,” Yanger said. “We maxed out capacity.”
At the beginning of the challenge, students were assessed based on four factors including weight, body fat percentage, push-up ability and grip strength. After the challenge, the participants will again be assessed.
In addition to the physical challenge, Penn SHAPE is offering workshops for its participants about healthy lifestyle choices. The program also has a Facebook page which Yanger hopes will be “an online community where people can have dialogue” about their personal challenges.
Many students are participating in the challenge with the intention of losing weight and gaining an incentive to work out.
A third-year Ph.D. candidate in the School of Medicine, Ryan Cedeno, stated that through SHAPE he hopes to drop a few clothing sizes.
“I’m always trying to integrate a healthier lifestyle and more exercise in my routine,” he said.
First-year Dental student and GAPSA member Katherine France also recognizes the benefits that participants could gain from SHAPE.
“Most of us think it’s a way to keep our motivations in the back of our heads and bring that focus, which is sometimes lost, back to the forefront,” France said.
For some, however, SHAPE is not about losing weight.
Akeesha Washington, GAPSA’s vice chair of Equity and Access and a second-year student in the Graduate School of Education, noted that her goal in participating in SHAPE is to become more fit and gain muscle. As of her assessment on Wednesday, Washington was only able to do 11 push-ups, while the average was around 25 push-ups for women.
Washington said that when she went in for her assessment, she was told she was the skinniest person participating in SHAPE and was asked why she wanted to take part.
“I want to be able to walk into a gym and not be judged because I am skinny,” Washington said. “There is an assumption that slenderness correlates with health. However, that is not the case.”
The challenge offers several prizes to the female and male with the highest relative fitness gains, including a runner’s package with running shoes and gear, a cyclist’s package with a bike and cycling gear and a nutritionist’s package with a juice blender and nutritional supplements.
“There are many incentives as to why you want to be part of this,” Yanger said. “These [the prizes] are all short term incentives but my hope is that this will actually instill healthy habits in people and equip them with knowledge for the future.”
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