The 20 Fittest Colleges in America

These schools deserve an A+ when it comes to helping students eat right, lose weight, squash stress, and achieve their fitness goals

August 22, 2012
Guiding Stars nutrition ratings
Courtesy Univeristy of North Dakota
University of North Dakota

Grand Forks, ND

What gets an A: Dining hall nutrition ratings

Busy college students don't have time to scrutinize nutrition facts for every food that passes their lips. At UND, they don't have to thanks to the Guiding Stars nutrition rating program. At campus dining halls and convenience stores, an algorithm is used to assign dishes one, two, or three stars based on vitamin and mineral content, fiber, and whole grains as well as saturated or trans fat, added sugar, excess sodium, and cholesterol. Ratings have motivated the UND dining team to revamp hundreds of recipes, says Dining Services dietician Dustin Frize, RD. "We're picking olive oil over butter, using more fiber-rich bread, and building in more ways to use fresh veggies and meat alternatives, like black beans and edamame," he says. (Related: 5 Craziest Pieces of Fitness Equipment )

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UGA Biggest Loser weight loss competition
Courtesy University of Georgia
University of Georgia

Athens, GA

What gets an A: The Biggest Loser weight loss competition

Last spring, UGA kicked off its second annual Biggest Loser weight loss contest, which helps students, faculty, and staff slim down by offering seminars on topics like nutrition and weight loss maintenance as well as two group workouts each week. Most exercise sessions were circuit-style strength training sessions, but yoga and cycling classes were also on the agenda. The nine-week program welcomed 75 participants in 2012, and the group lost a total of 311 pounds. Prizes, like Academy Sports & Outdoors gift cards, were awarded based on percent body weight lost, percent body fat lost, fitness improvement, and participation. Results were determined based on before and after weigh-ins, body fat measurements, and fitness assessment results that included things like max pushups, max situps, and flexibility tests. "The main goal is to teach and educate participants to lead healthy lifestyles beyond the program and to install a passion for being healthy," says Michelle Gehret, a fitness and wellness graduate student who works with UGA's Department of Recreational Sports to help coordinate the event, which will be held again in 2013.

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college student playing sports at Wellesley
Courtesy Wellesley College
Wellesley College

Wellesley, MA

What gets an A: Physical education requirements

The percentage of colleges that require physical education classes has dwindled from 90 percent in the 1960s to 60 percent in the 1990s, according to a 2000 study published in the Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. But at Wellesley, a small women's liberal arts college, students are required to complete eight PE credits to graduate. Women can enroll in two four-credit classes, which include options like Kung Fu, rock climbing, Zumba, and boot camp, or play a varsity sport for two years.

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Wheaton dining hall
Courtesy Wheaton College
Wheaton College

Wheaton, IL

What gets an A: Healthy, student-approved food

Wheaton has the best campus food in the country, according to Princeton Review rankings based on student surveys at 376 American schools. By best, we don't just mean grub that tastes good; it's also good for students. Colorful menu icons direct diners to from-scratch menu items that are organic, vegan, vegetarian, "farm to fork" or "in balance," meaning they contain the right mix of whole grains, fresh vegetables, and lean protein. The dining services' website, cafebonappetit.com, provides students with healthy eating resources, like a proper portions guide, nutrition facts for all basic menu items, and a BMI calculator.

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Pitt's Stress Free Zone
Courtesy University of Pittsburgh
University of Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, PA

What gets an A: Stress-free escapes 

From academic pressures to new relationships to being away from home, many college students are tightly wound. At Pitt, there's a central location to let it all go. The Stress Free Zone (SFZ), located inside the student union, offers yoga, biofeedback, meditation, and audio-guided relaxation programs, all of which are free and available on a walk-in basis. "Although exercise and a healthy diet can make a person feel better emotionally and mentally, it is also important to work with the mind directly," says Tevya Zukor, PhD, director of Pitt's University Counseling Center. "Mindfulness offers many benefits to people who practice regularly. Some of those benefits include an improvement in sense of well being, concentration, communication, and a decrease in perceived stress and anxiety."

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University of Minnesota—Twin Cities
Courtesy University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota—Twin Cities

Minneapolis, MN

What gets an A: Marathon training for college credit

Minnesota is one of a handful of colleges where students can earn credits for training for and finishing a 26.2-miler. PE 1262: Marathon Training meets three times a week during the spring semester. One session takes place in the classroom, where students learn about marathon running basics, like goal setting, nutrition, mental prep, and injury prevention. During the next weekly class, they complete a workout, like hill repeats or tempo runs. At the end of the week, the group goes on a long run. To pass the class, students must complete Wisconsin's Eau Claire Marathon and keep detailed training logs that include notes on food, sleep, and mileage. The journals spur research ideas among faculty members who study running performance and the effects of distance running on the body.

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Bowdoin chef in a garden
Courtesy Bowdoin College
Bowdoin College

Brunswick, ME

What gets an A: Locally-sourced food

In recent years, the food at Bowdoin has received a lot of praise. The school has hovered at the top of the Princeton's Review's "Best Campus Food" list and the dining services team received an Ivy Award from Restaurants and Institutions magazine (no longer in publication) in 2007 for its fresh, locally sourced ingredients and social responsibility efforts. "Students have become increasingly interested in sustainability and appreciate the introduction of local products and local cuisine," says Michele Gaillard, the dining center's associate director of operations. "This has energized our staff to become more creative with indigenous ingredients. It has also encouraged more 'mindful' eating as students relate to not only the great taste but also where and how it was produced."

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Washington University Studio40 demo kitchen
Courtesy Washington University
Washington University

St. Louis, MO

What gets an A: Student demo kitchen

Two years ago, Studio40 opened its doors inside Washington University's newest dining facility. The demo kitchen hosts student cooking classes, chef tables, and special events. "The chefs and Director of University Nutrition demonstrate and teach about seasonal and local foods, including grass-fed meats, fish, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and so on," explains Jill Duncan, Washington University Dining Services' director of marketing. Each month, "Dine with the Dietitian" seminars are held on topics such as proper portioning, low-sodium cooking, and "eating well during stressful times," she adds. This year, Studio40 will offer programs like "Rookie Cooking 101," a basic kitchen skills class for apartment-dwelling students, and "Weekly Wednesday Global Lunch," an opportunity to taste new light, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free items before they hit campus menus.

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Pool at University of Missouri
Courtesy University of Missouri
University of Missouri

Columbia, MO

What gets an A: A decked-out campus gym

When Mizzou students aren't hitting the books, you can probably find them at the campus beach club. That's right--the school's swanky gym is home to an aquatic center that has a bubble pool, waterfall, lazy river, and palm trees. If coeds aren't up for de-stressing in lounge chairs, the rec center also houses the Jungle Gym, where students have access to more than 100 cardio machines and 24 flat-screen TVs, a strength training center called the Pump Room, and a 35.5-foot rock climbing tower.

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Food at UC Santa Cruz
Courtesy UC Santa Cruz
University of California—Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz, CA

What gets an A: Vegetarian and vegan-friendly food

When People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) named the most vegan-friendly colleges in America, UCSC took the top spot. The progressive school serves up dishes like Portobello ratatouille, eggplant meatballs, vegan Mexican tofu Benedict, and sweet and sour seitan. In addition to jumping on the Meatless Monday bandwagon with a different dining hall going completely vegetarian on the first day of each week, UCSC also participates in "Beefless Thursdays" where a specific dining hall ditches red meat, and "Farm Fridays," where a select cafeteria features an entrée made from local, organic ingredients.

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Pitzer Green Bike Program
Courtesy Pitzer College
Pitzer College

Claremont, CA

What gets an A: Bike share program

The student-run Green Bike Program (GBP), founded in 2001, promotes cycling, bike safety, and sustainability at California's five Claremont Colleges. GBP offers students free loaner bikes as a way to encourage eco-friendly campus transportation (and to combat Los Angeles' car culture). At the end of each semester, when campus safety officials gather up bikes that have been abandoned on racks around campus, GBP refurbishes the bikes instead of letting them end up in landfills. GBP also gives community members free access to bikes, tools, and repair lessons.

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students playing volleyball
Courtesy University of Alabama
University of Alabama in Huntsville

Huntsville, AL

What gets an A: "Just Move It" campus fitness initiative

UAH makes New Year's resolutions easier for students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Each January, a 10-week program kicks off with participants setting challenging, yet doable fitness goals and tracking their progress--and earning points--online. Points are awarded for exercising, attending wellness seminars, and adopting a "healthy behavior of the week," like not watching television, getting your body fat percentage checked, or eating five servings of fruits and veggies a day. Just Move It runs in conjunction with Scale Back Alabama as well as a campus 5-K training program for participants who set goals to lose weight or run their first race.

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UCLA student health center
Courtesy ULCA
University of California—Los Angeles

Los Angeles, CA

What gets an A: Outstanding student health services

UCLA holds more NCAA titles than any other school, and we're guessing the on-campus wellness resources have something to do with that. The school's student health center is ranked number one by the Princeton Review and offers acupuncture and massage therapy to help coeds unwind from the daily stresses of college life. Additionally, the Student Nutrition & Body Image Campaign was created to help students appreciate their bodies; break poor nutrition habits; and prevent eating disorders, obesity, and size prejudice, all of which can distract from academic achievement.   

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skate park at OSU
Courtesy Ohio State University
Ohio State University

Columbus, OH

What gets an A: Out-of-the-box fitness opportunities

Weight rooms and Zumba classes aren't for everyone, and at OSU, there are plenty of other ways to exercise. Students have access to a 10,000-square-foot skate park that features a half pipe, quarter pipes, a mini ramp, grind boxes, and grind rails. Inside "The Lounge" at the Recreation and Physical Activity Center you'll find four flat-screen TVs, a Nintendo Wii, Playstation 3, and Kinect for XBox 360 along with a big selection of exergames.

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food at Emory University
Courtesy Emory University
Emory University

Atlanta, GA

What gets an A: Sustainable dining practices

In an effort to simultaneously boost the health of students and the environment, Emory has set an ambitious goal of having 75 percent of the food served in campus hospitals and cafeterias be locally or sustainably grown by 2015. The school's dining services team hosts cooking classes that teach students about healthy and sustainable eating, builds relationships with local farmers, hosts a weekly farmers' market, and crafts seasonal menus from ingredients like Georgia-grown organic grass-fed beef, local organic granola, and local milk and cheese.

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Little 500 bike race
Courtesy Indiana University
Indiana University

Bloomington, IN

What gets an A: Big bike races  

Every April, the nation's largest collegiate bike race, the Little 500, is held inside IU's Bill Armstrong Stadium. Modeled after the Indianapolis 500, riders compete in four-person teams for 200 laps around a quarter-mile cinder track. The event, which began in 1951, draws tens of thousands of fans each year, and has raised more than $1 million in scholarship funds since its founding. In 1997 Lance Armstrong attended the race and told reporters: "I've attended Super Bowls, World Series, and the Monaco Grand Prix, but the coolest event I've ever attended was the Little 500."

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West Point lacrosse
Courtesy West Point Military Academy
United States Military Academy

West Point, NY

What gets an A: Team sports requirements

Military academies keep students moving from morning to night, but they're not scaling walls and doing pushups all day. In addition to attending the required line-up of classes--applied gymnastics, boxing (for men), self defense (for women), swimming, and advanced combatives, cadets also take electives such as scuba diving and rock climbing. It's also mandatory to participate in an intercollegiate sport, a club sport, or an intramural sport every semester.  Activities range from soccer and skiing to powerlifting and triathlon training. Similar requirements are in place at the US Coast Guard, Naval, and Air Force Academies.

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men playing soccer
Thinkstock
Penn State University

University Park, PA

What gets an A: Intramural sports

Believe it or not, sports go beyond football at Penn State. According to Princeton Review rankings, it's the college where the most students participate in intramural sports. They can sign up for a variety of team or individual activities, like soccer, softball, squash, swimming, wrestling, racquetball, track and field, dodgeball, and badminton. PSU's rec sports department also hosts many one-day events, like golf tournaments and 5-K cross-country races.

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Georgia Tech swimming pool
Courtesy Georgia Institute of Technology
Georgia Institute of Technology

Atlanta, GA

What gets an A: Top-notch athletic facilities

The Princeton Review ranks Georgia Tech's athletic facilities as number one. The Division I school's aquatic center was the site of all swimming and diving events during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, and over the past few years, additions and upgrades have continued to come down the pipeline. Last summer, construction wrapped up on a new football indoor practice facility and McCamish Pavillion, the future home of Georgia Tech's men's and women's basketball teams, will open its doors at the start of the 2012-2013 season.

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University of Connecticut Kinesiology
Courtesy University of Connecticut
University of Connecticut

Storrs, CT

What deserves an A: A killer kinesiology program

Where would we be without the scientists who study how our bodies react to exercise? UConn's Neag School of Education, which offers degrees in exercise science, sports training, physical therapy, and sports management, is ranked as the number one doctoral program in kinesiology by the National Academy of Kinesiology (NAK). UConn faculty members have shared valuable advice with Fitbie readers over the years, like teaching us about the best foods for building muscle and how much water to drink throughout the day. And between 2005 and 2009, the university churned out more peer-reviewed studies and put on more scientific presentations than any other kinesiology program in the country, according to the NAK.

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