October is ‘Exercise is Medicine Month’ at Appalachian

BOONE, N.C. — What if, instead of taking a prescribed pill, the doctor’s orders were as simple as taking a walk with a friend, choosing the steps over the elevator or biking to work instead of sitting idly in a stream of bumper-to-bumper traffic?

Throughout October, students, faculty and staff at Appalachian State University have taken their medicine one push-up, one dead lift and one hike at a time by participating in the Exercise Is Medicine On Campus (EIM-OC) program.

In 2007, by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Medical Association (AMA) co-launched the EIM program as a national health initiative. Two years later, this initiative, which has since been coordinated by ACSM, expanded into a multinational collaboration. Currently, 40 countries worldwide participate in the program.

According to its website, “The purpose of EIM is to make physical activity assessment and promotion a standard in clinical care, connecting health care with evidence-based physical activity resources for people everywhere of all abilities. The scientifically proven benefits of physical activity remain indisputable, and they can be as powerful as any pharmaceutical in preventing and treating a range of chronic diseases and medical conditions.”

In spring 2018, Gabby Dickey ’11, assistant director for fitness in Appalachian’s University Recreation (UREC), partnered with several other Appalachian faculty and staff members, as well as students, to register Appalachian’s campus in the EIM-OC program.

Her collaborators included the following:

  • Dr. Becki Battista, professor in Appalachian’s Department of Health and Exercise Science and director of the university’s Office of Student Research.
  • Dr. Elizabeth Torre Hinnant, staff physician in the university’s M.S. Shook Student Health Services.
  • Janna Lyons, adjunct instructor in Appalachian’s Department of Nutrition and Health Care Management and nutrition specialist with Wellness and Prevention Services.
  • Kaitlin McShea ’18, of Waxhaw, and Amber Daniel ’18, of Greensboro — both alumnae of Appalachian’s exercise science program. McShea is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in exercise science at Appalachian.

Battista said some of the benefits of regular exercise include improved mental health and mood, weight management, reduced risk of some types of cancer, decreased risk of chronic disease and, ultimately, a longer life.

“For college students, of particular importance is the fact that physical activity is linked to improved cognitive function, improved sleep, (and) reduced incidence of anxiety and depression,” she said.

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Caleb Ruiz, an Appalachian sophomore majoring in social work, performs a bench press in Appalachian’s 10th annual Push/Pull Powerlifting Competition. Photo by Chase Reynolds

In a 2017–18 survey of Appalachian students conducted by the university’s Department of Wellness and Prevention Services, 1,388 students, or nearly three-fourths of respondents, said they engaged in sustained physical activity for two or more days in the week prior to the survey. Additionally, 297 students, or 16.6 percent of survey participants, indicated that academic commitments were the primary inhibitor of their ability to engage in physical activity in the three months preceding the survey.

The EIM-OC program encourages faculty, staff and students at colleges and universities to work together toward improving both the health and well-being of their respective campus communities through the following methods:

  • Make movement a part of the daily campus culture.
  • Assess physical activity at every student health visit.
  • Provide students with the tools necessary to strengthen healthy physical activity habits that can last a lifetime.
  • Connect university health care providers with university health fitness specialists to provide a referral system for exercise prescription.

Appalachian is among 190 U.S. colleges and universities taking part in the EIM-OC program and one of only 12 North Carolina schools to participate. More than 200 college campuses around the world are registered in the program.

Although all members of the Appalachian Community are targeted through the EIM-OC program, Dickey said, thus far, she’s seen more student participation.

To encourage Appalachian faculty and staff to become involved in the program and incorporate activity into their daily routines, UREC reached out to these Appalachian Community members via email and asked them to submit a video and/or photo of the various ways they enjoy exercise.

UREC has shared these personal stories once a day, Monday–Friday, throughout October on its Instagram account, AppStateFitness.

‘Small wins’ for fitness

Dickey said her best recommendation for students to become more physically active in their daily lives is to start small by setting a goal for themselves that they know they can achieve. These “small wins,” she said, are the beginning to lifelong fitness.

When discussing the importance of Appalachian students incorporating physical activity into their daily routines at this stage of their lives, Dickey offered her own personal experience as an example and how this experience helped her gain control over various aspects of both her mental and physical health.

Dickey said it was while teaching a group fitness class as a student at Appalachian she realized she wanted to take a more proactive approach to health care.

“I began to realize that I could control my own happiness, stress levels, health, confidence — all of those intangible aspects that you really want to hone in on, especially in that age where you’re getting so many messages from social media, and media in general, in what is expected of you.

“It was really helpful for me, personally,” she added, “to be able to control that and use exercise as a way to do that.”

Dickey cautioned that an inactive, sedentary lifestyle can lead to muscle atrophy, meaning that the muscles lose both their size and shape, which in turn can negatively affect the skeletal system and even the nervous system.

“People who are inactive for a long period of time begin to feel as if this is their new norm,” she said, “and no longer realize that they have the ability to correct chronic pain.” However, when a person’s muscles and joints are strengthened through exercise, Dickey said, sometimes chronic pain can be reversed.

“Yes,” Dickey said, “exercise is medicine, but for some individuals with chronic disease, it’s not necessarily the only medicine. It’s not a magic pill, but it’s pretty close.”

She said two students she’s worked with, both of whom have fibromyalgia — a chronic condition characterized by tenderness, pain and stiffness of the muscles and joints — shared with her that exercise has been the only way they’ve found to reduce, or significantly reduce their symptoms, which can include both anxiety and fatigue.

Dickey said a great way for novice exercisers to enter the world of fitness is through UREC’s FitClinics, which are free workshops designed to educate students and faculty members about area policies, fitness equipment, safe lifting technique and various fitness-related topics.

Exercise is Medicine events at Appalachian

The EIM-OC program kicked off Oct. 1 on Appalachian’s Sanford Mall, with a push-up contest and resource tables, where students, faculty and staff could gain information about how exercise is medicine. Fitness demonstrations that included “Twerk and Tone,” “Mindful Minutes,” and “Cardio Dance” were also offered.

Dickey said the highlight event of the monthlong program was Appalachian’s 10th annual Push/Pull Powerlifting Competition, comprises two of the most effective exercises — the bench and the deadlift.

The EIM-OC program closes with the annual Costume Cardio Dance Party held in Appalachian’s Quinn Recreation Center on Halloween.

About University Recreation (UREC)

A department in the Division of Student Development, University Recreation provides structured and unstructured leisure time activities for Appalachian State University students. Through these activities, students learn lifelong skills that contribute to their social, physical, emotional and intellectual growth and development. University Recreation serves as a laboratory for training in recreation management and related fields. Additionally, University Recreation is responsible for scheduling various athletic and recreational facilities.

About the Department of Health and Exercise Science

The Department of Health and Exercise Science in Appalachian State University’s Beaver College of Health Sciences delivers student-centered education that is accentuated by quality teaching, scholarly activity and service. The department includes three undergraduate academic disciplines: athletic training, exercise science and public health. The department also offers a master’s degree in exercise science that prepares students for advanced study in a variety of related fields, as well as research. Learn more at https://hes.appstate.edu.

About the Beaver College of Health Sciences

Appalachian’s Beaver College of Health Sciences opened in 2010 as the result of a strategic university commitment to significantly enhance the health and quality of life for individuals, families and communities in North Carolina and beyond. In 2015, the college was named for an Appalachian alumnus and pioneer in the health care industry — Donald C. Beaver ’62 ’64 of Conover. The college offers 10 undergraduate degree programs and six graduate degree programs, which are organized into six departments: Communication Sciences and Disorders; Health and Exercise Science; Nursing; Nutrition and Health Care Management; Recreation Management and Physical Education; and Social Work. Learn more at https://healthsciences.appstate.edu.

About Appalachian State University

Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System, Appalachian enrolls more than 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.