April 2, 2012 10:02:07 AM
STARKVILLE -- When acid reflux problems led Mississippi State junior Sherika Wheeler to visit her campus physician, she didn't anticipate medical advice that involved tractor-tire flipping and jumping rope.
Wheeler's doctor at the university's Longest Student Health Center gave her two prescriptions: one for a traditional over-the-counter pill from a pharmacy and a second for exercise. Her doctor literally wrote a prescription for exercise.
Part of a national campaign by the American College of Sports Medicine, the MSU health center's Exercise is Medicine initiative has had physicians writing prescriptions since 2009.
The second prescription allowed Wheeler to receive nine sessions of personal training at the Sanderson Center, MSU's modern recreation facility on the north side of campus. During a five-week period, Wheeler lost more than five pounds and gained discipline by adding a workout routine to her schedule.
"I can tell a big difference from when I started to right now," said the Byhalia native and biological sciences major. "It makes me more confident."
She said friends and family noticed, too, making her feel good about her efforts.
Although she played junior high basketball and recreationally in high school, Wheeler said she didn't keep an exercise routine in college, primarily because workouts bored her. "I'd exercise, but after two weeks I'd quit," she said.
Joyce Yates, MSU's director of health education and wellness, said physicians prescribing exercise address medical issues through prevention and treatment.
"We want to make it easy for people to exercise," Yates explained. "Everyone knows they should do it, but the process of actually doing it is what gets many of us in trouble."
Dr. Robert Collins, the health center's longtime director, serves on the American College of Sports Medicine's Exercise is Medicine Committee for College Campuses.
Collins, who has spent almost his entire professional career at MSU, easily can cite a long list of how exercise improves physical and mental health.
"While diabetes, heart disease and hypertension are often mentioned, a regular exercise program also helps people with arthritis, obesity, anxiety, depression," Collins said.
To encourage people to exercise more, the health center's exercise prescription also involves some practical benefits. For non-students, it enables a no-cost, month-long exercise program at the Sanderson Center. For students, whose enrollment at the university includes access to the facility, there is free personal training.
For Wheeler, the personal training helped her escape the exercise boredom by learning new ways to make it fun.
Justin McKenzie, her personal trainer, created workouts that impacted both her upper and lower body while improving her cardiovascular system. Also, beyond working out with Sanderson's exercise equipment, she again is playing basketball--and running laps and flipping a tractor tire.
McKenzie, an MSU fitness management graduate student now pursuing a master's degree, said personal enjoyment is a key to finding the right exercise program.
"If you can make it fun, they want to come back," he said.
For Wheeler, who plans to attend pharmacy school after graduation, the prescription for exercise has helped eliminate the need for the medical prescription--and her acid reflux issues.
After completing the month of personal training, she remains committed to keeping exercise as a regular part of her life. Her happy-ending saga also may have fringe benefits for friends who have witnessed the benefits it has provided to her.
"They exercise with me," Wheeler said. "I can help them."
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