NSCC boosts active living among students

Each log submitted for the Active Living Challenge counts as a ballot in a monthly draw for prizes, such as a water bottle and poster, held here by Lori Foran and Matt Currie, student awards associate. (Photo: Carolyn Wickware)

Celeste Axworthy, the student association president at the Nova Scotia Community College’s Burridge Campus in Yarmouth, reels off each assignment with a looming deadline.

Yet she’s calm about her busy life in the continuing care assistant program – and she says she has exercise to thank.

I needed the exercise to de-stress,” says Axworthy, a supporter of the college’s new Active Living Challenge.

I’m not very active in school because I’m in class all day. It gives me a good excuse to get out.

Many, like Axworthy, feel the strain at a post-secondary institution. Last year, Maclean’s magazine reported that a quarter of university-age Canadians experience mental health issues such as stress, anxiety or depression.

But with increasing evidence for the benefits of exercise on mental health, the college introduced an Active Living Challenge on October 1. It encourages students to keep track of their exercise in 10-minute blocks, with logs submitted online for every 100 minutes of activity.

The student with the most minutes recorded at the end of the challenge on April 1 will be crowned the Most Active NSCC Student.

The college’s insurer, Gallivan and Associates, co-sponsors the challenge. The company launched its myWellness assessment tool this year to promote mental health in students.

Billy Crowley, the college’s student service coordinator for the company, says the two programs fit together. “The general premise was a healthy mind and a healthy body equals student success.

Crowley says the company stepped in financially to help get the challenge off the ground. For him, the goal is simple.

“No student should have to leave (school) because of the financial strains that come with getting sick,” he says. “Now, with the active living challenge, we’re looking at prevention.”

Of the college’s 10,600 students, 40 are registered for the challenge so far from all except two of the campuses, says Lori Foran, manager of student engagement and awards at the college. But she says prizes are enticing more students, gesturing to a growing pile of registration forms that have yet to be counted.

“Most of the campuses have multiple (students) signed up,” says Foran. There are only two registered from Burridge Campus and Axworthy says getting the students motivated can be difficult.

“A lot of it could be that their courses are so heavy,” she explains. “They’re overwhelmed.”

The solution is in the structure, says Foran. “We thought we’d start with something that was manageable for students.” Even the 10 minutes it takes to walk between classes counts, she says.

With gym facilities varying from campus to campus, Foran says students are taking part in many ways, from volleyball to marathon training. Some enthusiastic students are submitting about 100 minutes per day, so Foran says she is open to raising the bar in the future and matching Public Health Canada’s weekly recommendation of 150 minutes for 18- to 64-year-olds.

For now, she hopes the pile of registration forms continues to grow as the word spreads.

“What we’re trying to encourage,” says Foran, “are more students just to move a little bit.”