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Credit: Analyn Delos Santos

Penn graduate students are going to Pottruck for more than the smoothies this semester.

Through the PennSHAPE Challenge , over 400 graduate students are motivated to attend workshops, work out and get fit in hopes of exhibiting the most improvement in physical fitness before finals begin in May.

This is the third time the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly is organizing the 12-week challenge. PennSHAPE launched last spring, with the intention to foster healthy habits in graduate students.

“We are aware that in graduate school it’s frequently hard to go to the gym because so much of our lives is focused on doing our work,” Charlotte Rose , GAPSA’s vice chair for student life, said. “My personal motivation for getting involved with PennSHAPE was because I had come off of studying for comprehensive exams and I was just physically and mentally exhausted.”

Rose emphasized the ways in which the challenge can improve mental health among its participants.

“I realized that if I had some time to actually exercise, then I would have been far less stressed out,” she said.

GAPSA partners with the Pottruck Health and Fitness Center, Student Health Service and Counseling and Psychological Services to offer various workshops throughout the semester as part of the challenge. One of the first programs always incorporates a discussion of body image “to make sure people realize healthy parameters to keep in mind,” Rose said.

Due to increased interest in the program, Pottruck is offering additional spinning classes and weight training specifically for the competition’s participants.

Luyao Wang , GAPSA’s vice chair for communication , attended a meditation workshop in the basement of the Graduate School of Education, intending to take pictures of the event.

“There was a leading meditator sitting at the front, in a very cozy environment with slow music,” Wang said. “They tell you what to do to relax your mind and body.”

When Wang started taking pictures, the constant clicking of the camera’s shutter disturbed the serene atmosphere.

She told herself, “Forget about the camera. Let me just be one of the participants of the workshop.”

Setting the camera aside allowed her to enjoy a valuable experience that day, Wang said.

“It’s definitely helpful if you are stressed,” she said. “It gives you just one moment to sit down and not think about anything else.”

Rose agreed that the meditation workshops were very beneficial for students. She also noticed impressive physical improvements in many of the participants.

“Some of the people that were top finishers [in past semesters] had lost significant extra weight, and I believe a number of the women had substantially improved the number of push ups they could do,” Rose said. “One woman started out doing only one push up and was eventually able to do 20.”

Students received a physical evaluation at the start of the semester, assessing their cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, flexibility and body composition. They will be evaluated in the same categories at the end of the semester, between Apr. 28 and May 2, and physical trainers from Pottruck will determine their overall improvement.

Each participant’s physical progress, combined with their attendance at PennSHAPE workshops, will determine the winners at the end of the challenge. One woman and one man will receive a fitness package worth $500, while those participants finishing in the top 10 percent will earn a smaller package valued at $50.

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