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It’s Academic: Fit Bodies Equal Fitter Brains
OKLAHOMA CITY— From practicing German on the volleyball court to pedaling away stress, professors at Oklahoma City University are teaching their students that healthy minds need healthy bodies. Perhaps the ancient expression “mens sana in corpora sano,” Latin for “a sound mind in a sound body,” is just as relevant today as it was for the Romans. Klaus Rossberg, physics and math chair at Oklahoma City University, thinks so. “The availability of technical inventions and quick-fix medicine has made people mentally and physically lazy and less immune to diseases,” he said. Rossberg teaches his students about the potential ramifications of numerous additives and chemicals used on foods and warns his students about staggering hearing loss statistics. He said roughly half of the U.S. population 40 and older suffer from hearing problems. Outside the classroom, Rossberg models healthy living. He eats only organic food, walks about 2 ˝ miles daily and lifts weights or cardio trains three times a week. “I try to stay fit because I enjoy life,” Rossberg said. OCU English Professor Terry Phelps also takes healthy living to heart whether he is teaching a composition class or cycling in a national championship road race. Phelps won his 18th state cycling championship this year and has competed in 15 national championships, finishing as high as 10th place. Phelps’ 2008 state championship came in the road race competition. Phelps took up cycling about 21 years ago at the urging of Harry Masch, an assistant coach to legendary Oklahoma City University Basketball Coach Abe Lemons. Masch took Phelps for a 30-mile bike ride on their first trip and Phelps was hooked. “I bought a bike and started taking 45-mile trips,” he recalled. Phelps now regularly rides about 175 miles per week. “When I ride, I am competing with myself to be all that I can be— physically, intellectually, psychologically and socially,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s a combination of an exhilaration of movement, a kinesthetic aesthetic and the camaraderie of energetic people.” Phelps learned one of the most important benefits of his lifestyle two years ago when he suffered a heart attack while riding in the state championship time trial. “Had I not been fit, I would not have survived my heart attack,” he said. Ask him if he’s fully recovered and Phelps will smile. “I won the state championship a year later, and this year, I won again,” he says. Phelps likes to let his students in on what he’s learned about exercise. He encourages law students at his legal writing seminars to work out regularly. “Exercise releases tension and increases blood flow to help your brain function better,” he explains. “If you work out regularly, your mind will work better.” Phelps is quick to note the benefits to leading a lifestyle that’s fit are numerous. Among them are cardiovascular health, psychological well being, increased energy, mood elevation, a better immune system, weight maintenance and healthy skin texture. OCU Law Professor Laurie Jones is spending her summer training for the New York City Triathlon. During the school year, she rides her bike to work at least once a week on a 23-mile round trip. Law Professor Greg Eddington sometimes teams up with Jones for a ride and takes frequent 30-mile bike trips just for fun. “It makes you feel like a kid,” Eddington said. “After a long ride, no matter what’s bothering you, it’s OK.” “I try to role model a fitness regime for my students,” Jones explained. “I encourage law students to have a fitness program and to combat stress by having an active, physical hobby.” Many OCU professors model healthy living whether they are on or off the campus. When nursing faculty Susan Barnes and Chris Black need to get across campus, they hop on an old Schwinn instead of heading for their cars. OCU Vice President for Student Affairs Rick Hall always works an exercise regiment into his daily schedule. Tonia Sina Campanella, artist-in-residence in the Oklahoma City University Theatre Department, enjoys incorporating a variety of exercise into her movement and acting courses. “My goal for the next school year is to keep my body in shape by working out between classes and participating in the active moments in my classes as much as I can while still observing and helping my students,” she said. German Professor Rob Griffin gives his students a mental and physical workout on the volleyball court every semester. Students keep the score, shout out commands to each other and name each position on the court in German. “It’s a way to get the students to know each other and relax a little bit,” he said. “It’s been a very successful activity.” Faculty efforts at OCU go hand-in-hand with a variety of health initiatives on campus. OCU was the first campus in Oklahoma to go tobacco free on May 18. Fitness classes, nutritional workshops and exercise programs are offered year-round to faculty, staff and students – a testament to the idea that a fit mind needs its exercise. ###