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Ask the Cougar

The Road to a Healthier You

Kelcey Davis, Class of 2013

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A lot of people groan when they hear words like exercise and healthy eating. If you’re part of that group, perhaps it’s time for an introduction to Kelcey Davis ’13, who spent part of her senior year convincing, motivating and inspiring CofC employees to take health into their own hands.

As part of Davis’ research for her Honors College bachelor’s essay, the exercise science major presented a series of fitness and nutrition lectures to more than 30 employees of the College’s physical plant this past winter, as well as supervised their workouts at a campus gym. With explainers on how to read food nutrition labels and the causes of heart disease and high blood pressure, Davis aimed to not only make participants feel healthier, but also to prevent significant medical problems. The response she received from physical plant employees was overwhelming: they couldn’t get enough of Davis’ enthusiasm, know-how and recipes for healthy dishes.

“There’s a health focus and camaraderie that didn’t exist before,” says Debbie Shumate, physical plant’s staffing and training manager. “Everybody just fell in love with her.”

Davis worked with professor of exercise science Tim Scheett to develop the fitness program. Perhaps, most impressive, says Scheett, was Davis’ foresight to conduct a focus group before starting the program, investigating what health concerns were most pressing for her audience.

“Instead of deciding what they needed,” Scheett says, “she listened to the people and gave them what they wanted.”

And what the people wanted was more information on diseases that threatened themselves and their families, including high cholesterol, heart problems and diabetes. Davis responded by teaching them how to be a better buyer and preparer of healthy foods, showing them the ins and outs of nutrition labels and suggesting healthier substitutes for many of their favorite foods, such as replacing the mayonnaise in chicken salad with avocado. Davis even made some of the foods herself and brought them to class to share, prompting her students to beg her for the recipes.

But eating better is only half the battle. Davis also encouraged her students to exercise, and taught many people for the first time how to use weights and fitness equipment. According to Davis’ end-of-program survey, 57 percent of students who had never previously exercised regularly, now do, and 26 percent of people who had already exercised regularly now work out even more often. About 87 percent of her students, she proudly says, have more confidence exercising.

For Shumate, Davis helped give her a more complete understanding of what it means to be healthy. Shumate had already lost some weight in the last year, but Davis helped her realize that true health involves more than staying thin.

“I was setting my whole success by the scale,” says Shumate, who credits Davis for offering tips that have boosted her energy, improved her sleeping and lowered her blood pressure.

Shumate is not alone. Scheett says Davis has made a big difference in the well-being of many physical plant employees, not to mention the health of their loved ones who are also affected by a family’s eating and exercise habits. That’s music to Davis’ ears, and she hopes that her wellness lessons have permanently empowered her students.

“Nutrition, fitness and exercise are the keys to preventing all these diseases that are becoming epidemics,” Davis observes. “They don’t have to be a victim to diabetes or whatever condition. I hope it opened their eyes that they have control over their health.”