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Photo by Thomas Fricke (left). Right, illustration CIBINEL ARCHITECTS LTD .+ BATTERIÍD ARCHITECTS LTD.

Next generation fitness

February 16, 2015 — 

New technology emerges every day promising to make our busy lives easier. In the realm of fitness, wearable technology and myriad apps now allow users to track and customize their activity on the fly. And the modern ‘gym’ is chock full of high-tech machinery geared towards improving the workout experience.

But for all the ways technology has enhanced physical activity, exercise still requires doing. And according to the Province — we’re not doing so well. The provincial government acknowledges on its Manitoba in motion website that, “less than half of all Manitobans of all ages do enough physical activity to improve their health.”

ALC-ThomasFricke

Photo of ALC by Thomas Fricke.

Enter the Active Living Centre.

When the ALC opens its doors in early 2015, its 100,000 square feet of sun-soaked activity space will have capacity for more than 2,000 patrons per day — a mix of faculty, alumni, students, staff and the greater community. It will be the largest facility of its kind in the province, boasting the latest and greatest in exercise equipment. But size is not what sets the ALC apart; it’s the in-house Applied Research Centre where students, faculty and staff will help advance our understanding of healthy living and physical activity.

According to Douglas Brown, dean of the Faculty of Kinesiology and Recreation Management, the research lab will run a gamut of programs to engage the public, including fitness
assessment and exercise prescription.

Faculty researchers will also run training studies that examine the impact of exercise on subjects ranging from high performance athletes to special populations. Most important for Brown is that all programs run out of the ALC are supported by evidence.

“We’re striving to ensure every program that we run through that building is informed by research and based in best practices,” he says.

Complementing the research side of the Centre is a something-for-everyone suite of active living options. On the centre’s fourth floor is a 200-metre track where runners and walkers have a bird’s eye view of the various cardio and weight machines on the level below. Also on that level, a 12-metre wall juts out like a craggy mountainside, inviting flatlanders to experience the challenge and rush of rock climbing. The centre’s trio of group workout studios will cater to fitness classes, and there’s also a dedicated training space for elite athletes.

Daylight from three walls of windows stream into the ALC, creating an environment Brown describes as “the complete opposite” of the university’s soon-to-be-defunct fitness hub, known as the Gritty Grotto. The new building’s location at the corner of University Crescent and Dafoe Road invites pedestrian traffic, with active living in plain view of members and nonmembers alike. “Walking through a facility that’s all about physical activity sets a tone,” says Brown.

At colleges across North America, facilities like the ALC, combined with robust intramural and recreation service offerings, continue to sprout up. In an Oct. 29, 2014 piece for The Wall Street Journal writer Rachel Bachman reported this trend as a response to the shift in thinking characteristic of today’s student.

“While previous generations of college students might have mixed in the occasional softball game amid test cramming and late-night pizza, the current one has grown up amid a fitness and wellness boom,” Bachman noted.

Research suggests that campuses that provide students ample opportunities for wellness benefit in both recruitment and retention. A study in a recent issue of Recreational Sports Journal by Michael McElveen and Alicia Rossow compared data for students who had memberships to the fitness centre at a large Midwestern university in the U.S., with those who didn’t. They found that five per cent more of the gym members were still enrolled in school two years later. They also found that having a gym pass might benefit academic success.

With resources like the ALC at our disposal, we can make even subtle shifts to our daily behaviours or routines and achieve more active, healthy lifestyles, notes Brown.

“I am going to start having walking meetings on the track,” he says.

View the virtual tour.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2015 edition of On Manitoba, the U of M’s alumni magazine.

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