John Jay Faculty and Students Reflect on Physical Health During the Pandemic

Alexee Hernandez, Writer

When William Morales, a recent John Jay graduate, started college, he committed himself to his physical health by eating healthier and exercising regularly, which led to him losing a lot of weight from his freshman year up until halfway through his junior year; but then the pandemic hit.

​After months of having to attend classes virtually, leading an inactive lifestyle, and eating unhealthy, Morales gained weight – something that he promised himself would not happen.

“I figured that the pandemic was not going to last as long as it did, and because of this, I chose to let myself go – enjoy myself, and I ended up gaining about 30 pounds,” said Morales. “I felt as if everything had been taken away from me, and I couldn’t do anything about it because with life not being the same as it was, I was hopeless.”

​Due to the stay-at-home orders brought upon by COVID-19, people around the world have had to make changes to their daily routines, which involve a lack of physical activity and changes in dietary behaviors and mental health.

A study conducted regarding the impact of these stay-at-home orders on the health behaviors of adults in the ​United States found that among the 7,753 participants, healthy eating increased, but sedentary leisure behaviors and anxiety also increased, which led to 27.5% of the total sample reporting weight gain.

​As this study proved, physical health, particularly weight gain, became a major issue during the pandemic beyond the virus itself for people across the country.

“I think a lot of people are facing the physical effects of the mental toll that the pandemic is taking, and I have seen a lot of students who seem like they are under so much mental stress that now it is affecting them physically as far as sleep and they are getting sick a lot easier,” said Roxanne LaRaia, an Adjunct lecturer in the Health and Physical Education Department at John Jay.

It is because of this that John Jay Athletics and the Health and Physical Education Department have become so important in encouraging the John Jay community to get active again after the pandemic forced them to stay indoors longer than usual.

Professor LaRaia said that regardless of John Jay working virtually, these two departments have continued to help students maintain their physical health, and this has taken the form of prerecorded fitness sessions carried out by Tony Phillips, the Director of the Cardiovascular Fitness Center, and Jessie Contreras, an Assistant Coach in the Athletics Department. The sessions can be found on the John Jay Athletics YouTube channel.

Professor LaRaia who is also an athletic trainer for John Jay Athletics said the channel “is a great way for people to access free workout ideas or be provided tips to add to their routine.” In addition, Professor LaRaia said the Athletics Department partnering with the Center for Career and Professional Development to host live fitness sessions for students interested in careers that are physically demanding such as law enforcement.

Stephanie Simpson, a fellow Adjunct lecturer in the Health and Physical Education Department, who teaches yoga and stress management, has also encouraged her students to look after their physical and mental health during these difficult times. During her Monday night yoga classes, Professor Simpson assigns students to continue poses and breathing exercises throughout the week.

​Professor Simpson is optimistic that John Jay students taking her class are doing so because it is their first step in prioritizing their physical health. “I do think that there is a little more intentionality behind why students choose to take my yoga and stress management classes in that they need more help, awareness, and accountability, [which] these two classes can help with,” she said.

Concerning her recommendations to students seeking to regain their pre-COVID physical health, Simpson responded, “Be gentle on yourself, listen to your bodies and move them in a way that feels good and right to you at that moment. This is going to look different every day, but it will help shift your energy state, which will, in turn, shift your mental state, and then you will be ready to take on a little more.”

For her words of encouragement towards the John Jay community, ​Professor LaRaia quoted a former coach of hers from when she was a student-athlete and recalled, “Perfection is the enemy of progress.” She continued, “if we are always trying to be perfect and strive for what we think something should look like, then we will miss out on the progress that we make along the way; so instead of perfection, strive for progress.”

​This was exactly what Morales did once gyms reopened, and he said, “Although I was not able to work out in the same intensity as I was able to pre-COVID, I worked arduously for months until I regained the conditioning and intensity from before.”

Now, after months of gyms being open and Morales’ consistency, he was able to lose the weight gained during the lockdown and then some, resulting in him being in the best shape of his life.

Morales and Professors LaRaia and Simspon, along with John Jay Athletics and the Health and Physical Education Department, hope that the loosening restrictions because of the vaccines will encourage more of the John Jay community to become active again.

To access the fitness videos created by John Jay Athletics, visit this website.