What would you put into a Fitness for Life class?

Everyone’s talking about Lincoln college requiring students with a BMI of 30 or larger to take a “Fitness for Life” class.

What I’m wondering is, what would you like to see in such a class?  Not what is usually in such classes, or what Lincoln is including — what would rock your socks to see?

Here’s some ideas:

Topics:

Reading list:

Activities:

  • Critiquing popular fitness articles & ads
  • Weightlifting and bodyweight strength training
  • Dancing, walking, and other “stealth” aerobics
  • Stretching and Yoga

What do you think?  What would you add?  I’d like to put in a weight-neutral “how to exercise” book but I’m not sure one exists…

25 thoughts on “What would you put into a Fitness for Life class?

  1. Well as a psychotherapist I am biased towards a holistic view of fitness that includes mental/emotional wellness. It’s amazing how much of our psychological problems can manifest as physical problems, and likewise, how much exercising can help our bodies cope with mild mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety. So I’d want to include some stuff about identifying feelings, healthy ways of expressing those feelings, and how to know when to seek help for feelings that we are having trouble coping with.

    As a religious leader I’d also be interested in seeing some kind of spiritual component, but I don’t know right now how to make such a thing respectful to people who are atheists. And it is far too late (I should be in bed) to try to think hard about it.

    Excellent discussion, I hope others comment!

  2. In the name of better mental health I would like to see something included about having a positive body image no matter how much you weigh. I think that a positive body image goes a long way when working on ones physical health.

  3. Tai Chi. Swimming. Yoga. Dancing of all types. Nia. Martial arts. How to lift weights properly and safely and use all the various machines found in gyms. How to do fitness routines using only simple stuff you might have at home for times when you can’t get to or afford a gym.

    As I mentioned in my post, I’d want them to offer activities that people of all ability levels could find accessible and enjoyable. A variety of possibilities is the key, so folks can find the activity that they are most likely to feel successful at and do regularly.

    Too often the emphasis is on running or activities related to running, something the coaches usually are really into but that not everyone is comfortable with. Exercise goes far beyond running possibilities. Explore them and let students try out the possibilities. Encourage them to explore and find the activities that speak most to their bodies.

    • Too often the emphasis is on running or activities related to running, something the coaches usually are really into but that not everyone is comfortable with. Exercise goes far beyond running possibilities.

      That’s where I get the idea of “stealth aerobics”. If you’re dancing in a club for 4 hours with only occasional breaks for water, is that exercise? ;)

    • This! Too much focus on running! Why does everything have to be about running? I like my knees and I am not going to sacrifice them for something I don’t even enjoy.

  4. All the things you listed are fine, if one is going to HAVE such a course, but my issue with all this is that studying such things should not be mandatory, even if it WERE done in a weight neutral way, which the school in question is most definitely NOT doing. I always come back to the fact that our bodies belong to us, we are autonomous adults, & how we live in or food or move our bodies is no one’s business but ours. We are assaulted constantly in our culture with messages about ‘healthy eating’, ‘healthy lifestyles’, etc., so I would love to see courses available to help us love & embrace our bodies as they are & celebrate diversity & to help us find the strength & independence of spirit to stand up to the health nannies & their dream of a police state where no fat people are permitted to live.

    And even though I am a person who does move & has moved a lot, I would also not fail to point out that exercise is not required by law & is a personal choice & that one will not be struck dead if one doesn’t choose to exercise. Believe it or not, a great many people have lived long lives without exercising & more than a few who exercised a lot have died young. And exercising or eating fruits & veggies does not guarantee health, as was discussed on this blog a couple of weeks ago. I guess what is bothering me most is seeing how many people in the online fat community believe it is perfectly fine to force people to take courses about ‘healthy lifestyles’ & have someone tell them how to live, as long as it is done to thin people as well as fat people. It seems as if most people have become so used to all this nannying that they accept it as being right & proper & “for their own good.”

    But, yes, an elective course which encourages fat positivity, self-esteem, positive body image & tells people of all sizes that they CAN live well in their bodies as they are & that they can be active, even athletic, if they choose to be, is a great idea. We need a lot of options, a lot of ways to teach people to be comfortable in their bodies, & more ways to counteract the toxic effects of a culture which so brainwashes many people that someone can say that bringing donuts to a church meeting is as bad as bringing a loaded gun. Forcing people whom you consider to be too fat to be ‘re-educated’ about ‘fitness & health’ is not the way to do it.

  5. I went to a large public university that did have a phys ed requirement. Students had to take four credits of phys ed to graduate, and most classes were one credit each. But because the school was so large we had a wide variety of classes to choose from, so, even though I wasn’t at all interested in “exercise” per se, this seemed like fun to me! Country and western dancing! Synchronized swimming! Wilderness survival! Snow skiing! Weight training! This smorgasbord of options was ideal, I think, because it let a person choose their own path. But I don’t think it would be a workable plan at a smaller, less well funded school.

  6. How about Paul Campos’ The Obesity Myth?

    There should also be some discussion of having a fit Mind or Spirit or Soul or whatever. We tend to separate the two (Thanks Decartes!) and think of our bodies separately from our souls, but the reality is that to be “fit” we must care for both.

  7. I think it might be good to have a stress-reduction component — learning about mediation and problem-solving.

    I don’t know if such a class would involve exercise itself. I’d hope not, since people have such different views of what works for them, but information about what’s possible would be good.

    I was really pissed off at my university’s gym requirement, but, like O.C., I went to a big school with lots of choices. I took full advantage of the historical conceit that shooting is a “sport” and exercised the hell out of my trigger finger.

    • Oh yeah – stress management would be a good topic, and yes, dealing with meditation and a touch of cognitive-behavioral techniques.

      In my ideal class, the exercise stuff is more “how-to” and less “we do this to get all sweaty all the time!” There’d have to be enough time in the weight room, say, for people to do things (since some learn best by doing) but not “you must lift X more than you initially lifted to show IMPROVEMENT” type of thing.

  8. I’ll second Patsy Nevins and add that one of the problems of the, “But maybe it’s okay if they make fat and thin people do it” is that that argument completely ignores thin privilege.

    A thin adult forced to take such a course does so within the context of a society that already socially sanctions their bodies. A fat adult takes such a course without that privilege.

    A thin adult likely comes to such a course with far less of the baggage than a fat adult does, particularly if the thin adult was also a thin child. A fat adult who was a fat child has likely already lived through a fair bit of bullying in gym courses, and so cannot possibly approach the course in the same way. This, again, is the product of privilege.

    But let’s, for the moment, say that the course will be HAES-oriented. Where will any school find HAES-friendly faculty to teach it? Most people who go into Phys Ed are reflective of the general population, in that they are educated within a fatphobic culture. If that were not the case, then we would be seeing a national outcry from Phys Ed teachers at other colleges coming out in protest against Lincoln’s decision.

    Thus, I’m pretty pessimistic about this whole idea.

    • Oh, I doubt that Lincoln’s class would be anything like one we’d create. It seemed like EVERYONE had weighed in on this (even Dan Savage is against it (link may not be work-safe)) and I was trying to inject a little levity and positivity into the discussion.

      The real class would likely be rather like the nutrition class in Good in Bed, with the fat women all parroting the correct answers before the nutritionist even asked the questions, because it’s all stuff they’ve heard before.

      • Yes, the true irony here is that most of those students will almost certainly already know everything that they will be taught in the class, because those of us who are fat truly have heard it all before. Heard it, tried to act on it, and still ended up fatter and unhealthier than before.

        I wish there were a class like the one you’re hypothesizing about (and I wish those classes started in elementary school). THAT might actually make a difference in people’s health…and I mean all people’s health, not just the fat kids’.

  9. I’d like to note that I’m someone who said “it would be okay if everyone had to take it,” and also note that I was a fat kid and teenager, so I’m not coming from a privileged perspective in that way. And when I say I was a fat kid, I mean that I can never remember weighing less than 180 lbs, and I wore a size 20 when I was 12 years old.

    Anyway, this was what I had in mind-

    Ideally, students would learn a little about exercise physiology. For example, the names of muscle groups, what it feels like to use them, what activities they’re used in, how to strengthen them, and how to stretch them. It would teach about the benefits of strength, endurance, and flexibility and would explore how people with different body types excel at different things.

    Part of the class would be activity-oriented. Everyone would do some strength and flexibility work, but the students would get to choose activities that they enjoy: swimming, dance, team sports, etc.

    It would teach an approach to nutrition based on evidence and focusing on eating well, not as labeling foods as “good” and “bad.”. What micro nutrients are a lot of people low on – iron, vitamin D, calcium? – and what foods contain them? They might talk about the importance of eating regular meals, and possibly about different nutritional theories and the evidence (or lack of evidence) supporting them.

    I think that all of that would be pretty mainstream, realistic and non-controversial. If they really wanted to design a good class, they’d also include a discussion of body image, eating disorders, and the psychological and physiological effects of dieting.

  10. Of course, Savage being Savage, he had to get his digs in at those of us who are “in denial” about how our fat is going to kill us. As if there weren’t much bigger risks to my life than my fat ass that could come from untreated major depression. And as if I have any more of a shot at thinness than I do at being a millionaire — which I’m sure would be much better for my health than being lower-middle-class, too. And as if weight loss for fatties even had a statistical association with longer life, let alone proven causality. Etc., etc.

    But yeah, I get the point. Even an obliviously classist hatebag like him thinks this is a terrible idea.

    • Of course, Savage being Savage, he had to get his digs in at those of us who are “in denial” about how our fat is going to kill us.

      Yeah. You know, I DO realize that being superfat means I statistically have a higher risk of certain diseases. So what? It doesn’t magically make diets work any better.

  11. Oh, and my ideal phys ed class? Lead people to water. Do not force them to drink. Create a safe, joyful environment for people to move, where they will not feel humiliated for not “looking right” while they do it, and give them many different possibilities for movement, and they will do so if they are able and ready; if they are not able or not ready, leave them the hell alone, for gods’ sake, unless they ask for guidance. Like Dr. Dean Edell once said, exercise is no good if it kills you.

  12. I think the most important thing to me would be an emphasis on not having to win or be better than everyone else. That was what used to upset me most about fitness classes in high school. Also, a range of activities to try so you don’t feel boxed in and you can find something you actually enjoy, whether it be rollerskating, walking, hula hooping, etc.

  13. I think the main ingredient I would want in a ‘fitness for life’ class is exactly the same one I want in every college level course, critical thinking skills. I’d want students to read articles (both scientific and lay) and watch commercials and tv programs and be taught to see though the hype to the underlying truths. Teach kids to understand what it means that X% (whether it’s 95 or 98 or only 50%) of diets fail. Teach them to understand why “results not typical” is at the bottom of every ad. Teach them to find and read original research. Teach them to find out who funded that research and whether that might have swayed the findings. Teach them to see through the subtle and not so subtle messages that mass media is barraging us with daily.

    You want people to be as fit and healthy as possible all their lives? Teach them to think.

  14. Going off an a tangent here… When I was pregnant recently with my now-8-month-old baby daughter (pretty miraculous conception – I’m nearly 40, weighed 270lbs before I got pregnant, I have PCOS & endometriosis AND I was on the pill!), I had to attend a class for mothers-to-be with BMIs of over 30… We were *supposed* to be discussing the health implications and ‘diet awareness’, but for the most part it was a lenthy discussion on where to find the nicest plus-size maternity clothes!

  15. Pingback: Monthly Roundup (Nov & Dec) « Living ~400lbs

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