A Place for Play and Relaxation

play and relaxation

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Recreation centers are introducing more opportunities for students to mitigate the negative effects of overstimulation, stress, home sickness, being constantly tethered to technology and even over exercising by providing opportunities to create balance between the body and the mind. Fitness trends show­ personalized self-care is on the rise and statistics state people are feeling over-stressed more than ever. To combat these issues, more college campuses are offering restorative and healing services like meditation classes, massage and aromatherapy. It is time to take a deeper look into how we got to this stressed-out situation and why it is so important. Prior to launching a “Get Well with Rec” marketing campaign that focuses on holistic health, play and relaxation, let’s explore how and why this trend is growing.

The Need for Mindfulness

Colleges are struggling to meet the demands of students to provide health care and stress-relieving activities. “The number of students in the U.S. higher education system has changed little. Yet on some campuses, the number of students seeking treatment for mental health issues has nearly doubled.” [1]

Studies show taking movement-based courses, such as Pilates or tai chi, can increase mindfulness, change mood, decrease stress and improve sleep quality. [2] Disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with the inner-self as part of a regular workout routine is encouraged through mindful yoga or meditation classes. However, this is a challenge with the abundance of fitness trackers like Fitbits, Apple watches and other smart devices where we are always on and monitoring, even during sleep. We sense, track, read, report on social media, share, compare and repeat. The rise of self-care is a plea to slow down and look inward instead of constantly focusing on the façade.

The Need for Balanced Fitness

Mental care helps the cerebral and the corporal. Yoga, meditation and restorative activities after intense physical activities such as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) or boot camp style classes provide balance our bodies need to function optimally. In an article by Rachel Hosie, “Four personal trainers warn that too much HIIT could be damaging to your health — here’s what you should be doing instead.” Hosie asserts our fitness practices need to be multidisciplinary. High impact needs to be balanced with low impact, such as breathwork sessions and yoga, with interval training for our bodies to be properly balanced. “Life can often seem like one never ending rush. We go from high-pressure meetings to high-intensity gym classes to high-rise rooftop drinks, never stopping to slow down and breathe.” [3]

In a world of constant stimulation, consumers are searching for the best of both worlds: intense classes and balance with restorative post-workout care. Personal trainer and educator Pete McCall agreed fitness centers need to teach and provide strategies for recovery including nutrition, hydration, improving circulation and healthy sleep. “By identifying the best recovery strategies for each client’s needs, you set yourself apart as a knowledgeable fitness professional who understands the importance of what happens after people leave the gym. That’s good for business and great for clients.” [4]

The Need for Psychological Care

Step into your local bookstore and you’ll probably see self-help books prominently displayed at the front of the store. It is evident Americans have an intense preoccupation with well-being as well as marketing for the purchase of a “cure.” Interestingly, the terms ego, inferiority complex and self-esteem did not become household words until after World War II. [5] In the 1950s, advertisers began to appeal to customers’ unconscious motives, fears and desires during a time when psychological needs increased as soldiers were readjusting back into civilian life.

During this time, corporations worked with psychologists to understand the consumers’ psyche to increase profits through sales. The growth of psychological professionals increased as activism increased in the 60s; during the continued fight for equality, more than 15% of bestselling books were self-help in the 70s; the rise of talk shows and the acceptance of expressing one’s personal problems in public rose in the 80s and 90s. With time, America’s quest for emotional health resulted in a $69 billion industry. [6] For example, yoga is increasing in popularity in the U.S. and a booming market. A yogi spends an average of $90 per month on yoga classes, workshops, clothing and accessories. [7] According to 2019 statistics on the growth of yoga, people practice to:

  • Release tension — 54%
  • Get stronger physically and mentally — 52%
  • Feel happier — 43%
  • Get more “me” time — 27%
  • Feel less lonely — 21%
  • Unplug from tech — 20%

Another rising wellness trend is massage therapy. Research estimates massage therapy was an $18 billion industry in 2018.During the same year, 66% of consumers hired a massage therapist specifically for relaxation and stress reduction. [8] In addition to reducing stress, massage improves circulation, reduces pain, improves flexibility and sleep, reduces fatigue and increases focus.

Thirty-five percent of first-year college students struggle with depression or anxiety. [9] To mitigate this and improve student retention, campuses are engaging students in conversations about mental health and providing easy-to-find resources on campus. Recreation is already a beacon for physical health and as we become aware that a balance between mind and body is essential to finding happiness in our everyday lives, there’s no wonder wellness activities are growing in popularity. Recreation professionals are becoming more involved with students addressing the following topics during their time in school:

  • Emotional eating and the “Freshmen 15”
  • Nutrition and cooking on a budget
  • Time management and priorities
  • Performance and motivation
  • Stress management and healthy coping skills
  • Test taking, concentration and exercise
  • Barriers
  • Home workouts[10]

It is easy to get lost in a world where image feels like everything. Fads and trends tend to push consumers from one extreme to another based on what we buy. We are saturated with idealized images where a perfect exterior becomes the forefront of our attention. In our daily jobs, it is hard to sell internal peace when “technology, with its many benefits, has also served as a buffer… that separates us from the deeper dimensions of our human experience.” [11]

Recreation centers have the ability to construct a playground for all things wellness where members have endless options to transform their bodies and their minds through a variety of services. By providing tools to explore self-awareness and a curriculum for students focused on mental health and self-care practices, we can increase early interventions that promote optimal health and well-being. The time has come for us to promote our “Get Well with Rec” campaign. Highlight the need for mindfulness, for balanced food and fitness routines, and for psychological care as part of life’s journey to achieving self-love, self-knowledge and self-trust. Our goal is to promote our facilities as a place of play and relaxation, and university recreation centers can be the conduit for self-acknowledgement and acceptance.


[1] Gundy, D. and Musto P. (2019, November 30) US Colleges Struggle with Increasing Demand for Mental Health Services. [Web log post]. Retrieved February 11, 2020, from https://learningenglish.voanews.com/a/us-colleges-struggle-with-increasing-demand-for-mental-health-services/5184021.html

[2] Caldwell, K. Harrison, M., Adams, M., Quin, R. H., Geeson, J. (2010, October 22) Developing Mindfulness in College Students Through Movement-Based Courses: Effects on Self-Regulatory Self-Efficacy, Mood, Stress, and Sleep Quality. Retrieved from


[3] Hosie, R. (2019, July 3) 4 personal trainers warn that too much HIIT could be damaging to your health — here’s what you should be doing instead. [Web log post]. Retrieved February 11, 2020, from https://www.insider.com/low-intensity-training-balance-hiit-workouts-why-important-fat-loss-2019-6

[4] McCall, P. (2019, March 14) More Paths to Exercise Recovery: High-intensity exercises place a premium on alternative recovery options for rest, healing and growth to avoid overtraining. Retrieved from https://www.ideafit.com/personal-training/more-paths-to-exercise-recovery/

[5] Moskowitz, E. S. (2008). In therapy we trust: Americas obsession with self-fulfillment. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. (149)

[6] Moskowitz, 5.

[7] Grate, R. (2019, December 11). Yoga Statistics: Surprising Data on the Growth of Yoga– Eventbrite. Retrieved February 11, 2020, from https://www.eventbrite.com/blog/yoga-statistics-demographics-market-growth-trends-ds00/

[8] Massage Therapy Industry Fact Sheet: American Massage Therapy Association. (n.d.). Retrieved February 11, 2020, from https://www.amtamassage.org/infocenter/economic_industry-fact-sheet.html

[9] Eva, A. L. (2019, January 11). How Colleges Today Are Supporting Student Mental Health. Retrieved February 11, 2020, from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_colleges_today_are_supporting_student_mental_health

[10] Ward, Jasmine. “The Erasure of Black, Brown, and Trans Bodies in Recreation Spaces and their Importance in the Management of Self Care.” Retrieved from this PDF.

[11] Rittenberry, E. (2019, May 3). The Comfortable Life is Killing You. Retrieved February 11, 2020, from https://medium.com/@erikrittenberry/the-comfortable-life-is-killing-you-61cae61622e7

Sarah Cole
Sarah Cole has a BA in Studio Art from the University of Arizona and an MFA in Electronic Media Arts Design from the University of Denver. She has worked in recreation marketing for over nine years in the United States and Europe. She currently is the recreation marketing coordinator at the University of California, Riverside recreation department.

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