News & Features

Nick Burd

Exercise Is Medicine Is Gold For Illinois

The Illinois Exercise is Medicine—On Campus initiative has been recognized by the American College of Sports Medicine as a gold-level campus. UIUC is being recognized as a healthy academic environment, with physical activity and exercise opportunities and the commitment to create a culture of wellness on campus.

By encouraging faculty, staff and students to engage in regular physical activity and exercise, EIM-OC is positively influencing the overall health of the community. A focus of the initiative is to make movement a part of the daily campus culture, assessing physical activity, and giving students tools to build good physical activity habits, said Alana Harris, Associate Director Assessment, Student Wellness, and Adventure Recreation at Illinois Campus Recreation, who was a member of the founding committee at Illinois in the fall of 2017.

“It is creating a space and a place for students to see all of the different ways they can engage in physical activity and find things they enjoy doing,” she said. “We serve as a hub for all of the things related to physical activity and exercise that are available as resources and services to students on our campus.”

EIM-OC at Illinois has members from across campus and the community, with representation from the following areas: Kinesiology and Community Health, Campus Recreation, Counseling Center, McKinley Health, Christie Clinic and the Kinesiology Students Association. KCH assistant professor Nick Burd is the committee chair, and other members include Harris, Dr. Scott Paluska (Christie Clinic), Felicia Fordyce (McKinley Health), Deidre Weathersby (Counseling Center) and Alexis King, who is serving as the grad student representative.

The program serves multiple objectives: relationship builder, recruiting student participants for other programs, and spreading the word on important topics of wellness. The committee is designed as a mix of professionals and students to engage listeners in different ways, as well as provide experience to student facilitators.

“Everybody was working independently with the same common goal of improving the health and well-being of students and faculty,” Burd said. “And  this was an initiative to integrate us, people who have the same common goals—students and professionals on campus—to work together, to promote all of these great programs that we certainly have on campus. And that, I think, encompasses what EIM is.”

Harris agreed.

“We were doing great things already, but the recognition requirements state that your campus health center must discuss physical activity at health appointments. By simply asking students, during intake, at the McKinley Health Center if they are achieving the recommended 150-minutes of moderate intensity physical activity weekly we are building awareness and potentially giving a cue to action,” she said, “Something simple but potentially very impactful. We have partners at the Counseling Center who are represented on this committee … mental health is another new area of emphasis for this committee. And so we invited colleagues from the Counseling Center last year to assist in having conversations with students about the benefit of regular physical activity on mental health and cognition. Just recognizing that physical activity isn't just for students who are already in good health, but that it has a positive impact no matter where you are on the health continuum and that your gateway to a more active lifestyle could be through many different doors on this campus.”

One of the main functions of the EIM program is making movement part of campus culture, but Burd and Harris were quick to point out that physical activity and exercise are different.

“Some of our initiatives have been around active transport,” Harris said. “So, building physical activity into your day. There is a deep pool of research supporting the benefits of moderate intensity exercise on health outcomes, but reductions in sedentary time and the accumulation of short bouts of physical activity throughout your day are also shown to have positive health effects. As part of our initiative, we encourage people to walk when they can, to ride their bikes when they can, and to engage structure moderate intensity exercise at the ARC if that’s what they enjoy.”

Harris says that as part of EIM month, in October every year, that the committee and Kinesiolosy students regularly set up activities on the quad.

“As students pass by on their way to class, we engage them. We bring Frisbees, soccer balls, skipping ropes, and footballs, and we had all different ways to ‘play’. We talk to them about opportunities on campus and the benefits of finding activities they enjoy doing to accumulate the recommended physical activity that they should get in a day, and that there are a lot of health benefits to that if that's what you can fit in.”

But the part that “bumped us up into gold-level status” was the assessment piece, Burd said. “The first step of our assessment piece occurs at McKinley Health, where students provide information related to their physical activity levels, with the ultimate goal of McKinley Health to provide a referral system for students to increase their physical activity.” 

Harris said there is no formal assessment of activity levels, but added, “We’re focusing on awareness building and identifying gaps in opportunities. We've put out marketing and promotional materials about wearing activity trackers and set up free physical fitness assessments, again as cues to action. We encourage people to put prompts on their calendars every 60 minutes to get up and move until it becomes habitual.”

Of course, because of COVID-19, keeping people active when just going outside is fraught with issues can be problematic, and the Activities and Recreation Center on campus is closed.

But Harris said “we have really focused on maintaining our community through virtual opportunities. We have Illini Running and Illini Cycling intramural programs, where people are tracking and logging their participation. Our group fitness classes are being offered for free over Zoom, and in the fall we plan to continue virtual offerings via Facebook Live. So we're looking at connecting people and creating community around physical activity and exercise in a virtual way. Students have been really positive about this and we would not have had this shift in programming without COVID 19. I think that outdoor space may allow us to continue to meet people where they are as well. Connecting exercise with being outside could prove to have positive impacts as well. But I think this next year will focus a lot on engaging people and creating communities virtually.”

back to news