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Actress, health and fitness guru AJ Johnson
Obesity-related diseases are some of the leading causes of death according to the Center for Disease Control. It’s a worsening problem in the U.S. and schools like Spelman College are putting their foot down. After feeling the heartbreak of losing a professor and a student to diabetes, some of the staff at the college realized there needed to be a lifestyle change in their community.
A graduate of Spelman, actress and fitness coach AJ Johnson, decided to bring a wellness campaign to the school called “21 Days to Fit.” According to Johnson, the title comes from the scientific fact that it takes 21 days to embark on a new behavior.
The campaign is a part of Spelman’s Wellness Revolution, which it’s president, Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum launched late last year after school officials decided to opt out of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA.)
“When we learned about the health disparities that African American women are facing on an increasing basis, that gave us an opportunity to take time out and to really look at how could we redirect our resources and our energies to benefit more of our 2,000 students on a health and wellness standpoint,” explained Spelman director of communications, Tomika DePriest .
“So getting out of the NCAA and putting our investment in that initiative is our way to go.”
Only 80 students out of those 2,000 were participating in sports and almost a million dollars was being spent on the sports program. DePriest and Johnson spoke to women who stopped playing college sports and when asked if they still play outside of school, most say they don’t. Instead of focusing on the small number of participants, Spelman wants to give an opportunity for young women to get involved in activities they will carry on for a lifetime.
Director of Physical Education and Wellness for Spelman, Germaine McAuley, says there will always be intramural sports available for students. She also has had a number of conversations with sports teams and specifically with the basketball team at the beginning of their season.
“I told them, you all have not heard me talk a lot about this, the wellness initiative, but I think I need to just let you know, you all are going to be okay,” McAuley said.
“I said I know you can’t see it now, but later on in your lives you will all be able to say, I was a basketball player, a college basketball player, and I played maybe one additional year after college, but I wanted to learn how to play tennis. I wanted to learn how to play golf, you know, getting involved with fitness and wellness classes. You all are going to look more to that than possibly wanting to continue to play ball and many of you will want to continue to play ball recreationally. The focus is very different; understand that there is a bigger picture, a bigger vision.” Johnson says the same as she urges the time is now to make this “bigger vision” a reality.
“There’s a start for everything. When Rosa Parks sat down, she was just tired. That’s it. She wasn’t trying to be famous; wasn’t trying to stir any mud. She was just tired and didn’t feel like getting up again and look what happened. What we’re doing is saying there’s a better we can be, “she said.
21 Days To Fit was introduced to alumnae December 10, 2012. The women will be able to follow along with several online programs and staff members will be available to instruct students using the programs. Co-curricular activities such as golf, tennis, swimming, yoga, pilates, running and walking are some emphasized physical activities Spelman will encourage their students to participate in.
The Presidential Wellness Scholars program was also launched to help students identify and alter their behaviors that contribute to negative lifestyle habits.
Campus officials are also making changes to their athletic center, Read Hall, which will be home to a new and improved fitness center. Renovations are set to start in summer of 2013 and be completed in 2014. McAuley says they have been in contact with architects and some time during this month they should have a more concrete idea of what the building will look like.
Those interested in Spelman’s wellness advice and news can follow their twitter @SpelmanWellness where they’ve already been offering tons of advice and motivation.
“Many are watching because they feel we are on the cusp of offering a model that other institutions, not just HBCU’s, but even mainstream higher education organizations will be able to implement,” said DePriest
“Spelman is really in the position to offer higher education a new model for dealing with the nation’s health epidemic,” she said.