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Investigating Exercise Readiness and Life Stress among Undergraduate Students at an Historically Black University

Sarah Toth, Isia Jenkins, and Christine Highfill

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The experiences and challenges of college provide students with opportunities to explore new pursuits that can form the foundation of lifelong healthy choices. A college education has the potential to increase income and access to health care. Logically, the expectation is that college students should strive to be healthy; but other factors such as exercise, life stress, and demographics may play a role in health outcomes.

Obesity and overweight are leading health concerns that contribute greatly to chronic illnesses and conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, respiratory disease, and musculoskeletal disorders. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, non-Hispanic Blacks (49.6%) have the highest obesity rates adjusted for age. Overall, among young adults (aged 20– 39 years) in the United States, the prevalence of obesity is 40% with Black males at 37.5% and females at 56.1%. In the state of Alabama, the adult obesity rate for African Americans is greater than 35% and contributes to significantly higher risk diabetes and cardiovascular disease in this population. Also, according to the American Heart Association, African Americans experience the highest rate of hypertension in the United States.

Additionally, exercise and physical activity are key factors in the prevention and reduction of obesity and overweight. Physical inactivity accounts for approximately 25% of all breast cancers, colon cancers, and diabetes, and 30% of heart disease cases. Physical activity is defined as bodily movement that requires energy expenditure and use of skeletal muscles. Exercise is a type of physical activity that is structured and purposeful such as running, biking, jumping rope, dancing, and lifting weights. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minute of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week for adults. Vigorous to moderate regular exercise has been associated with reduced risk of high blood pressure among the Black population. However, only half of all Americans, and more specifically only one-third of Black women, meet the national guidelines for exercise.

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