GVSU starts new health and wellness initiative

Plan to boost exercise and health eating on campus

By Bennett Slavsky | 10/9/16 10:49pm

GVL / Luke Holmes - The first phase of the new recreation center is officially finished.

With busy class schedules, work, internships and everything else college students have going on in their lives, exercise is something that can often fall by the wayside. For many, it can be difficult to justify spending time at the gym. The Grand Valley State University health and wellness department recognizes this reality and has put into motion a new initiative to get students active, eating healthy and informed.

The roots of this initiative go back to 2014, when the GVSU health and wellness task force administered the National College Health Assessment to over 2,000 students on campus. The result of this assessment was the birth of a strategic plan to get GVSU recognized as a healthy school on a state and national level by 2020. From that arose the question: where to start?

“Healthy students are successful students,” said Lindsey DesArmo, health and wellness specialist. “So how can we support that?”

The new health and wellness initiative is a combination of two programs GVSU has become affiliated with since the dawn of this strategic plan. These include first lady Michelle Obama’s Partnership for a Healthy America and Exercise as Medicine on Campus.

Partnership for a Healthy America outlines 23 guidelines to becoming a healthy school. GVSU has met some of these guidelines so far, like marking healthy foods on campus, but is still working on others, like becoming a bike-friendly school. DesArmo hopes the university will have met all 23 guidelines by 2020 and will be recognized as a healthy school.

Exercise as Medicine on Campus is a program created by the American College of Sports Medicine. The program awards bronze, silver and gold status to colleges that apply and meet various criteria. When GVSU applied last winter, it received silver status. To earn gold, the school must become more connected with local practitioners—connecting campus to the community—which assistant professor of movement science Amy Gyorkos believes GVSU can accomplish.

“The goal here is to get healthcare professionals, students, staff and everyone on campus integrated and involved,” Gyorkos said.

Exercise as Medicine on Campus encourages schools to develop a health program that works for them, using their own resources and creativity. GVSU is working on informing students of all the ways they could be active and how to integrate that into a busy student life. This is occurring through signs and promotion, more social media presence and events like "Walk With the President," a two-mile walk around campus with GVSU President Thomas Haas Friday, Oct. 7.

“It isn’t necessarily about going to the gym and working out,” DesArmo said. “Just move. Be active. Ride a bike to class instead of taking the bus. Integrate activity into your daily life.”

The initiative is particularly targeted at freshmen. Upon leaving high school, many students lose the structure of organized sports, but GVSU is trying to continue that structure for students into college. Gyorkos said if first-year students get in the habit of daily exercise and learn early on to balance that with school, they are more likely to carry that with them throughout college and adulthood.

“If we could put all the benefits of exercise in a pill, every doctor would prescribe that pill,” Gyorkos said.

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