West Lafayette, Indiana - First-year Purdue students who visit the university's recreation center weekly during the fall semester are more likely to see higher grades.

"There are many campus activities for new students when they start college, but those new to campus can see the benefits of the recreational sports center their first semester," says Michelle Blackburn, assistant director of student development and assessment at Purdue's Division of Recreational Sports. "Visiting today's campus gym is not for just lifting weights or running on a treadmill but it is about getting involved. And there are so many different types of programming opportunities available to promote student involvement. Students can find a niche whether that be through a team sport, group exercise, climbing or swimming."

Students who visited Purdue's France A. Córdova Recreational Sports Center 15 or more times during the 16-week fall 2013 semester, held a 3.08 GPA, which is 8.77 percent higher, compared to 2.81 for those who did not use the facility at all. The difference on the letter scale is a B and B-.

"More than 60 percent of the students who visited the Co-Rec at least once a week earned a B or better during the fall semester GPA, compared to only 50 percent of students who didn't exercise at all," Blackburn says.

The university tracks facility usage based on students using their identification cards to check in. Officials can then generate a report based on GPA by using the student identification numbers.

To encourage first-year students to use the recreation center, time is allotted during the first-year orientation program, Boiler Gold Rush, so students can tour the facility, participate in classes and intramural activities.

"The numbers show us the positive relationship, and we're still trying to identify whether there is a cause and effect," Blackburn says. "When we talk to students who regularly use the facility they say it helps with their time management, and it also provides a sense of community which can be very important to that first-year experience. Of course, their bodies are stronger and healthier and they report feeling better. Students also tell us it is a form of stress relief and they feel they have more energy so they can focus more."