Integrating health and wellness into fitness and recreation has been an emerging trend filled with the promise of a healthier and happier future for college-age students. Overall health is multifaceted and should incorporate physical, mental and social aspects, all of which contribute to feelings of wellbeing. Holistic wellbeing has become an especially hot topic in college recreation because of the target demographic and the impacts of physical, mental and social health on student success.
Activity and nutrition
When thinking about how to improve health, exercise is commonly the first thing that comes to mind. That's because exercise increases metabolism and lean body mass, meaning more calories are burned throughout the day. It's as easy as providing access to fitness equipment, training programs, instructor-led classes or sports.
You can take it a step further by setting up a "free agent" program for your team-based sports. This is especially useful for new members of a community who don't have the network required to build a team of their own but are interested in meeting new people through shared interests.
Some institutions provide their students with access to nutritional information to educate them on the proper diet required to support an active lifestyle. For those who are embarking on a weight loss journey or more rigorous training program, this is invaluable, as it can be overwhelming to sort through all available information when it comes to properly nourishing your body for your new activity level.
Importance of mental health
While exercise can also have a positive impact on one's mental health — and has even begun to be used as treatment for depression and anxiety — further programming should be offered.
Mental health issues are especially prevalent in college students, and there is arguably inadequate programming available to this population. In fact, 64 percent of respondents to a survey from the National Alliance on Mental Illness said they are no longer attending college because of a mental health issue, and half of those individuals said it was because they did not have access to mental health services or support. An even more alarming statistic from the survey reveals that suicide is the third-leading cause of death on campuses. With mental illness becoming increasingly prevalent in college students (one in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness), adding programming to address such cases is crucial to students' success — perhaps even to their survival.
Adding programming to support those in your community who are struggling with mental health
issues can be as simple as distributing mental health information. Another option is to set up a crisis hotline. Some campuses are taking it a step further by creating peer-run student organizations, by providing mental health training for their faculty, or by setting up walk-in student health centers. The most effective type of programming to offer in your specific community can be identified through an anonymous survey to students to get an understanding of the services that are most valuable to their mental health.
Social health issues
Social health and wellbeing is arguably just as important as physical and mental health and can be a major factor in determining individual success. Social health and wellbeing is dictated by how connected one feels to others within their community — from family and friends to peers and coworkers. This is especially important within student-based communities, as there are many diverse cultures, interests and risks.
Setting up a variety of programs, groups or events that support each of these is an efficient way to address social health because group-based activities promote feelings of inclusion and acceptance. Additionally, schools are encouraged to provide easy access to information on what it looks like to form and maintain healthy interpersonal relationships.
Some universities are even kicking it up a notch by reframing aspects of health promotion with a social health spin. For example, Georgia Tech now offers programming to address the importance of preventing sexually transmitted diseases through "highlighting the importance of knowing your partner and communicating about your sexual history." This approach helps the university communicate the health issue with students in a way that allows them to also promote social wellbeing through communication and interpersonal skills.
Unfortunately, there is no cookie-cutter method to address physical, mental and social health within your campus community. However, mental health is hugely important to the overall wellbeing and success of your students. To get in-depth training on how to integrate health and wellness into your programming, attend AB Show — Nov. 13-16 in Orlando, Fla. You'll hear case studies, troubleshoot your challenges with peers and learn from industry experts. Find out more and register at abshow.com/mag.
This article originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Athletic Business with the title "The importance of integrating health & wellness." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.