On any given day, as many as 3,000 people use the Jo Ann Gora Student Recreation and Wellness Center, and Dylan Danowski is often one of them.

The self-described health nut uses the modern campus athletic and recreational complex — part of a larger complex that also houses facilities for sports teams and classrooms — for everything from running on the treadmill to weight training.

“This place is so convenient because I can work out and then go to my classes in the complex,” said Danowski, a graduate student in the sport and exercise psychology program. “I think today’s college students are more conscious than ever about wellness. We’ve learned how childhood obesity has become a major problem in our country, and this facility will allow us to learn how to improve our lives, becoming healthier.”

Several students are seen walking toward the Jo Ann Gora Student Recreation and Wellness Center.

Up to 3,000 people use the Jo Ann Gora Student Recreation and Wellness Center each day; “the rec,” as students call it, opened in 2010.

Danowksi’s views about fitness and wellness at Ball State are in line with the newly released National Collegiate Fitness Index 2015 Report, which gauges the quality of fitness-related policies and facilities at universities across the country. Ball State ranked eighth among 39 large universities, ahead of bigger schools such as Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan State, Ohio State, Rutgers and Texas.

The report grew out of a 30-question survey of 107 institutions overall — the other 68 campuses were categorized as either private or small public universities — by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), American Kinesiology Association and National Academy of Kinesiology.

The survey, while measuring campus fitness broadly, also broke down a range of results, with questions about biking, walkability, fitness and sports activities and facilities such as swimming pools and basketball courts.

Ball State was No. 1 in one of the more specific categories, recreation and educational policies and services. This includes the presence of sports facilities, availability of sports/wellness services and a physical fitness/wellness academic requirement.

The university has steadily expanded its range of recreation and wellness facilities and policies for decades — among the changes, the Field Sports Building constructed in the 1980s and the enhancement of intramural sports in the early 1990s. A major push in that direction occurred in 2010, with the opening of the student recreation and wellness center, or “the rec,” as students have nicknamed it. It’s part of a complex that includes the Health and Physical Activity Building, Field Sports Building and Worthen Arena.

A man ascends Ball State's 35-foot climbing wall at the university's Outdoor Pursuits Program.

Ball State’s 35-foot climbing wall is a staple of the university’s  Outdoor Pursuits Program, which also offers outdoor equipment rental, a trips program, outdoor skill clinics and workshops.

“I think that the most amazing feature is that this complex, including the rec center, is a shared facility used by recreation, physical education, wellness and athletics,” said Dan Byrnes, director of sports facilities and recreation. “By being in the same complex, we serve the entire campus community from various perspectives. A student, faculty or staff member can walk in the door for recreation, wellness programs or go to a physical education class.”

Nearly 80 percent of the university’s students and 1,000 of its employees will use a component of the recreation center during a typical school year, Byrnes said. The facility features a suspended 200-meter running and walking track, three levels of fitness space, traditional basketball and volleyball courts, racquetball courts and multipurpose rooms for exercise and meetings.

There is also the Outdoor Pursuits Program, which includes a 35-foot climbing wall, outdoor equipment rental, trips program and outdoor skill clinics and workshops.

“Students come into college as informed consumers because they know a great deal about exercise and wellness when they get here,” Byrnes said. “What we want to do is offer programming that opens their eyes to all sorts of opportunities, like the climbing wall, canoe and camping trips and other types of recreation. In that way, when they graduate, they are a more sophisticated consumer.”

In the classroom, Ball State students learn about a healthy lifestyle through the Physical Fitness and Wellness (PFW) course, which is required for graduation. During a weekly lecture, faculty cover topics associated with physical fitness and wellness; twice a week, students participate in an activity, which could include aerobics, jogging, swimming, walking or weight training.

Two university employees take a brisk walk past the David Owsley Museum of Art.

A brisk walk past the David Owsley Museum of Art is in stride with Working Well, a fitness program Ball State established in 2007 for university employees, retirees and their families.

“Our ranking helps validate the important role the PFW course has to the campus community,” said Kendra Zenisek, program coordinator for the School of Kinesiology. “Sedentary behaviors can be linked to many chronic health diseases, and as we emphasize in the PFW courses, in agreement with the ACSM, exercise is medicine —proactive and reactive in nature.

“With a society that is more physically active, healthy life expectancy may increase and health care costs may decrease,” she said. “The benefits of regular physical activity have societal benefits but also individual benefits going beyond the physical realm of improved cardiovascular and musculoskeletal health.”

Another aspect of campus wellness is the updated NetNutrition, Ball State’s online tool for viewing menus and nutrition information for items at all 13 campus dining locations as well as the on-campus Burris Laboratory School. Wellness nutritionist Amanda Kruse helped refresh and reintroduce that tool.

Campus fitness and health initiatives aren’t limited to students, however.

A wellness program created in 2007 helps employees, retirees and their families achieve health goals such as weight loss, tobacco cessation and lowering blood pressure. Working Well provides participants with services such as health coaching and nutrition consultation, all with the goal of creating healthy lifestyles and optimizing health care resources.

“Our program strives to provide a culture of health and well-being that contributes to our employees’ effectiveness in their jobs, in the classroom and in the  community,” said Rhonda Murr, director of health enhancement. “Our focus is to use collaborative partnerships to help faculty, staff and their family reach their healthiest state possible.”