Blending Wellness and Recreation

wellness and recreation

Blending wellness and recreation is not a foreign thought these days. We all know exercise can help with mental well-being, so why not take that natural relation further? Why don’t we tap into the underlying, inherent power in the connection between wellness and recreation?

More and more we are seeing recreation centers adding wellness to their list of services, if not their names. Recreation departments are starting to separate wellness from fitness because the value of having standalone wellness programs is evident.

Whether you are new to the idea of blending wellness and recreation or already work in a center that does, below I offer considerations for diving deeper into the intrinsic connection between the two, starting with the popular New Year’s rush.

Working in recreation, we are all familiar with the New Year’s rush. Patrons stream in, excited about the positive change they will see in few short months. We also know less than two-thirds of them will last a few months. Most trickle out after a few weeks, if not days, so how do we stop that? How do we attract more people year round, not just in the New Year? How can we tap into the personal resources of determination, motivation and willingness to change?

Phone Your Wellness Friends

Whether already in the building or across campus in the health center, do you know who understands the psychology of healthy behavior change? This is the health promotion staff, the public health professionals and those who do health education. They know how to create sustainable change in patrons because their careers center on helping people adopt healthy behaviors. These professionals know what deters and what motivates people. They know how people will respond to barriers, and are masters of changing public opinion on key health topics.

But you know what they may not understand? Students. Despite all the data they collect on how students eat, sleep, exercise; how much they drink; how much stress students experience and every other thing you’d ever want to know about student health, they may not fully understand how or why students want to receive health resources and services, but you do.

You work in recreation where you teach, employ and supervise students. You have built your career on one specific population and you know it well. In your department, you may also have a staff member with a student affairs or higher education degree who knows how students develop psychologically, intellectually and developmentally. They may be the ones designing your student development series, or department wide training.

Blend Wellness and Recreation

Go out, shake some hands — or give an air high five during COVID — and combine forces. Help connect the dots between your two services. Learn from each other and collaborate over your mutual interest: student well-being. Your programs will be better because of it.

Your health promotion colleagues can help improve the promotion of your services, create campus-wide campaigns and inform you of what other health factors are limiting student participation. Conversely, you can help them connect with and more fully understand students, so they can refine their approach and better target students with health messages and education.

Support Student Success

Do you know who likes to be healthy? The people who work out at the recreation center. You do not have to convince them to become healthier. Their very presence means they are willing to try. Leverage that to do more. Why stop with exercise?

If students care about working out, they are primed to learn how quality sleep and nutrition affect their recovery and physical performance. If they work out to reduce stress, teach them other ways to cope, too. The gym is a hot bed of potential when it comes to increasing patrons’ overall wellness because they have already started down the wellness path by simply being there.

This an opportunity to grow your reach on campus and expand students’ sense of well-being. You already touch on physical well-being, but have you thought of other ways to influence student wellness? If you offer programs about different aspects of wellness, you increase the likelihood participants will branch out and try new things.

Sometimes participation comes down to proximity. Make it easy for students to explore holistic well-being in one place. Why should we keep wellness confined to the health center and recreation confined to exercise when the two are meant for each other? If you cannot share the same space, I get it, but collaboration doesn’t require you to be roommates.

There is no other place on a college campus more primed to influence student wellness than a recreation center. How can you make changes to start blending wellness and recreation today?

Will Evans is the assistant director for Health and Wellness Programs at Purdue Recreation and Wellness, where he leads well-being initiatives to better the holistic health of students. Through his work, he has collaborated with faculty and staff on innovative wellness apps, peer education, and health campaign ideas, the latter of which are published in the Journal of Communication in Health Care. Will is the current vice president of the Mid-American College Health Association and is a certified health and wellness coach.

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