Many people connect physical activity to body composition and performance goals, but for others, it is about mental health. Physical activity has many proven mental-health benefits including improved mood, decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety, lower stress, increased self-esteem and self-confidence, and improved sleep. 

Photo of Jill Gurtatowski wearing a mask
Jill Gurtatowski, Photo by Bee Lakes

The College’s Thrive! program teaches that wellness involves actively engaging in and nurturing all aspects of the whole person. Implemented in 2014, the program aims to create and sustain a campus culture of wellness that educates, motivates and empowers members of the Berea College community to adopt and maintain healthy lifestyle behaviors.

To help students and employees maintain or increase their activity levels, Thrive! offers discounted fitness trackers to students at the beginning of each academic year. With the device, students are expected to participate in the Million Step Challenge, an annual event that invites students and employees to accumulate 1 million steps or more during the academic year. Last year, participants logged more than 364 million steps. Employees also can obtain discounted fitness trackers through the College’s wellness and rewards platform.

The Million Step Challenge allows for a sense of belonging through participation in a campus-wide program, which is especially important right now for students who are learning remotely. The program encourages social connections by allowing users to create their own mini-challenges with their friends, to chime in on the chat feature to answer trivia questions and to help guide a monthly challenge storyline. Each week in October, participants voted on how a storyline would unfold in a spooky Halloween-themed challenge. Step challenges also promote being outdoors in nature, which has many benefits. 

Couch to 5K (C25K) is a very popular program offered to the campus community, and even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, a session was offered for students in the fall semester. The C25K program brings together people from across campus who might not normally interact. There is something inspiring about achieving a goal together, and countless friendships have developed through this program. Last year, wellness staff started assessing mood and energy level pre- and post-run and demonstrated that participating in C25K had a positive impact on spring participants’ overall mood and energy levels.

Thrive logo

A new program that Thrive! offered last summer was Virtual Water Cooler chats. These chats, held via Zoom, provided a time for employees to come together online to talk about anything and everything—as long as it was not work related—like you do when you bump into colleagues at the water cooler on campus. Much of the focus was directed to students who were disrupted when the College moved to online instruction in March. Employees, however, were also impacted, as many transitioned to remote work. So when employees reported feeling disconnected as a result, these virtual chats gave them an opportunity to reconnect with coworkers, increase engagement and reduce feelings of isolation.

Additionally, the Thrive! team created Facebook and Instagram pages for Healthy Tenets—five health behaviors that are linked to positive health outcomes. Posts focus on a different tenet each day with quick tips or inspirational quotes. This initiative grew from the team’s desire to find ways to engage students and employees in healthy behaviors. A pandemic affects people in complicated ways: some get distracted from their commitments to physical activity and nutrition by the larger worries being faced. Or, they wallow in things they can’t control—the election, COVID-19, endless Zoom calls, disruption of family support systems—but what benefit does such behavior bring? The Health and Wellness team works to get participants back to the basics by focusing on what they can control in their life: what they eat, how often they exercise, how much sleep they get and the quality of their relationships. The message: choose to be mindful and thrive.

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