In 2012, researchers Paul Loprinzi and Bradley Cardinal conducted a national study of more than 1,000 adults to see if regular physical activity differed between men and women. The results showed women, on average, get 40 percent less daily exercise than men.
In the same year, researchers from Northwestern University published a study in which they analyzed health and lifestyle data of 3,000 adults collected over a 20-year period. The study found that participants who had made healthy lifestyle choices early in their life were more likely to continue these choices throughout the following decades and remain at low risk for heart disease.
Combined, these studies indicate a trend: beginning at a young age, when health and fitness choices matter most, women aren’t getting enough exercise. It is this trend that Elisabeth Tavierne is fighting against.
Tavierne, an exercise science graduate from Ohio State University, is the founder and president of Changing Health, Attitudes and Actions to Recreate Girls, or CHAARG. As the organization’s name suggests, CHAARG’s mission is to change how college-aged women view and achieve fitness.
“Girls have this mindset that if they do cardio two to three hours, five days a week, they’ll get this healthy [lifestyle] they’re looking for,” Claudia Pagan, a sophomore journalism major at the University of Maryland and founder of the university’s CHAARG chapter, said.
“What we do is liberate girls from the elliptical,” Pagan added. “We want to show girls that being healthy requires a lot of things. You have to do a variety of workouts to achieve what you want, it’s not just cardio and a limited amount of food.”
CHAARG offers classes ranging from yoga to Zumba to PILOXING – a cross between Pilates and boxing – to help its members find activities they enjoy. Members also have access to instructors largely unavailable to college students. According to Pagan, a Nike trainer is scheduled to lead Maryland’s CHAARG chapter through boot camp exercises for the fall 2014 semester.
“All the instructors we work with are so great, and they have modifications for each girl so any girl can be a part of this organization,” said senior pharmacy major Danielle Carroll, who started the University of Toledo CHAARG chapter. “CHAARG is not meant for one type of girl, it’s meant for every girl out there.”
But in order to reach “every girl out there,” CHAARG must expand – a process that is already happening. The organization currently has more than 2,000 members across 14 universities, and is planning to add six new chapters by January, Tavierne said in an email.
Another challenge for CHAARG is expanding the program so it doesn’t solely focus on improving physical wellbeing, but catalyzes action for mental health, personal confidence and women support groups as well.
“People see the fitness side right from the beginning, but they don’t see how deep the community goes and how involved everyone is,” Pagan said. “CHAARG isn’t a sorority, but it has that sorority-type of feel to it.”
By creating this sorority-like atmosphere, CHAARG falls in line with a common recommendation among health professionals –working with friends to motivate exercise. Brittani Rettig, a certified group fitness instructor and manager of her own nationally recognized fitness blog GRIT by Brit, is one such professional.
“With the whole CHAARG initiative, I think it’s great and I think they should continue to make it about having fun,” Rettig said. “The only way change really happens is when people find some sort of activity that they enjoy.”
And while CHAARG members are benefitting physically from new and fun workouts, students really enjoy the organization’s ability to teach young women how to live overall better lives.
“I didn’t think how CHAARG could impact me personally; I didn’t think about how I would grow as an individual,” Pagan said. “I could get up in front of people and tell that what I’m so passionate about. It helped me to be more confident, and to know what I want and go for it.”
“CHAARG is reforming education outside of the classroom,” Pagan added. “With our voice, we’re breaking a stereotype and redefining what being healthy and being fit really means.”