After 12 Years, Student-Led 3 WINS Fitness Still Inspires Community Health

Trainers from 3WINS Fitness pose in front of a CSUN sculpture

Trainers from 3WINS Fitness. Photo, taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, courtesy of Steven Loy.

More than 12 years ago, the 3 WINS Fitness program was an idea born in the classroom when California State University, Northridge kinesiology professor Steven Loy challenged his students to come up with ways to navigate America’s ongoing health crisis related to insufficient physical activity. 

“If my generation has failed, what can yours do about it?” asked Loy, who teaches in CSUN’s College of Health and Human Development.

At that point, the problem and the solution had both been identified; but no one was taking the steps to creating an effective solution. The students’ answers led Loy to the conclusion that maybe they needed to involve themselves in a solution to help them understand their capacity to change people’s lives.  

The solution was to create what was then known as 100 Citizens, a free, community-based, student-led health training and nutrition education program. Eventually the name was changed to 3 WINS, representing Loy’s philosophy that “seeking three wins in all you do will result in a more substantive and important product.” The three wins are participant health, community health and, for students, professional development leading to future employment and career advancement.

 “The goal,” Loy said, “was to encourage students to apply their ‘hard skills’ in the field while learning the ‘soft skills’ necessary to lead and change the program as they saw fit” while Loy focused on creating relationships between recreational park facilities, schools, churches, public health organizations and the university.

“By greenlighting the program, the students were given a chance to apply the skills learned in the classroom to the real world and aid underserved communities,” Loy said.  They could change people’s lives while still in school. 

“The vast majority of America is not exercising the way research has indicated they should,” he added. “About 75 percent of the population is not completing 15o minutes of exercise weekly, equating to 30 minutes per day for five days and doing two days of strength exercise.”

This lack of attention to their health — which can lead to heart disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes and more — is costing Americans billions of dollars in healthcare every year.

“The students realized “we can’t just tell people what to do, we have to come to them with the solution and shape it according to their community’s needs,” Loy said.  

In collaboration with CSUN health sciences professor Lisa Chaudhari, Loy recently published research that showed the health of individuals participating in 3 WINS improved and, through role modeling for their family and friends, encouraged others to follow their example, thus providing a positive influence on overall community health. Concomitantly, the study said, student-instructors were developing into well-trained professionals. 

“3 WINS as a student-led sustainable and replicable model can address the existing call from public health to reduce physical activity and health-related diseases and inequities,” Loy said.

He pointed out that in some places, it is hard for community members to take part in physical activity because of limited access to public parks or exercise facilities, and costs for equipment and proper athletic attire can be prohibitive. 

“The goal of 3 WINS is to engage underserved communities in activities which are sustainable and replicable,” he said. “In conducting this program for 12 years with no external funding required, 3 WINS has demonstrated a model which universities across the country can replicate.”  

Loy said he has been inspired over the years by how dedicated people were not just to 3 WINS, but to their health. 

“So many of the participants enjoy working with the students — some have been attending for since the first year we were in the park,” he said. 

Loy said he is also inspired by many students who have dedicated up to 6 years to the program and community.

Loy said he hopes to expand the program to a national level, and has published an article calling kinesiology programs to own the physical inactivity pandemic and begin their own 3 WINS program.

“The program is free,” he said. “Combined with the social aspect of community members gathering in a familiar setting to exercise with someone youthful, taking part in 3 WINS can be a cathartic experience for those participating, especially in life as we continue to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.”

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