Chancellor's Blog

Freddy Falcon in Falcon Center

The impact of healthy choices

November 27, 2017 | Dean Van Galen


In the Midwest, we like to say that we “enjoy the four seasons.” Whether this is truly the case, or simply a strategy to convince ourselves to persevere through essentially five months of winter, the phrase seems to serve its purpose. Winter changes our lives in many ways, but if you are a runner in Wisconsin or Minnesota, it most likely means you are driven indoors to a treadmill or an indoor track.

That was how I found myself in the Falcon Center on a mid-November evening, running on a treadmill, listening to the “running mix” on my iPod including songs by Coldplay, The Eagles, and Supertramp. There was time to reflect on the impact of this amazing new facility on the lives of the couple dozen students around me, also enjoying a workout. Knowing that since the Fitness Center opened in January, over 4,300 students have used that part of the Falcon Center, it is easy to consider the importance of a healthy lifestyle as one of the keys to success in college and beyond.

While perhaps not surprising, I was recently impressed by some data I reviewed regarding the relationship between healthy choices and academic success. A 2015 survey of 660 UWRF students showed a modest but statistically significant correlation between students who engage in vigorous exercise on a routine basis and those who do not:  the average GPA for students who vigorously exercised at least five times a week was 3.35, compared to a 3.23 GPA for students who did not engage in any vigorous exercise. The study also confirmed a strong negative correlation between GPA and less healthy choices like engaging in binge drinking or using tobacco. Students’ grades were, on average, lower if they excessively used electronic devices for leisure, and of course, inadequate sleep and high levels of stress further contribute to lower GPAs. These results are certainly consistent with national trends and lower grades are only one of the negative and long-term impacts of unhealthy choices.

The Falcon Center is just a facility, but we know that it is already helping us to better prepare our health and human performance students, provide better campus recreation opportunities, and enhance the experiences of our student athletes and the athletic event spectators. Possibly the greatest long-term impact the Falcon Center will have, however, is in how it influences the choices of the students who use it. Not only can it help them succeed at UWRF, it has the potential to shape the quality of their lives for years to come, enabling them to cultivate lifelong habits of health.

As I finished my workout, I found myself filled with a hope that many of the students around me, and the thousands of others who will take advantage of the Falcon Center, will be set on a pathway towards a healthy lifestyle because they are attending UW-River Falls.

Now, as many of us “recover” from all of last week’s turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie, how about an invigorating walk or run?