Virginia Tech has received Gold-level status through the Exercise is Medicine on Campus (EIM-OC) program. Virginia Tech is one of 18 campuses that have received this recognition. To be considered a Gold-level campus, a university must create collaborations between health care and exercise professionals to provide physical activity prescriptions, and direct students and employees to recreational facilities for health and fitness programming.

To illustrate the importance of this approach, Shelly Rasnick, wellness coordinator with Recreational Sports, cited the case of a student who grew up playing sports and staying active daily. He was an avid table tennis player, loved soccer, and participated in multiple other activities. And then two unforeseen injuries sidelined him at age 15. After years of, in his words, “basically doing nothing,” his doctors noticed high levels of triglycerides and cholesterol. His health went from a back burner problem to an urgent one.

The student sought out the Healthy Eating Assessment and Referral Team, a collaborative initiative of Cook Counseling Center, Schiffert Health Center, and Recreational Sports, and met with a case manager. He was then connected to Rasnick who paired him with a personal trainer. Working together, they established a gym routine and a trusting relationship formed between the two students. The student gained confidence, wellness, and health.

In assessing the experience, the student told Rasnick, “Now I can go to the gym by myself, and I know the exercises, what I have to do, and what I need to do. That fear of the gym is gone. Even beyond that, it has helped me to gain confidence in other matters related to my personal life, like work and time management.”

“Duke did a study in 2000 that showed that exercise was just as effective as drug therapy in treating depression,” said Rasnick. “It was this study that first sparked the need for this partnership between Cook Counseling, Schiffert Health Center, and Recreational Sports.”

Two different programs within the health and wellness areas of the Division of Student Affairs support these initiatives.

The Exercise is Medicine Referral Program specifically supports students suffering from depression and/or anxiety. Exercise programs are tailored to the student’s unique needs, lifestyle, personality, and goals.

“Using health coaching sessions with a professional and peer-to-peer personal training, this program challenges students to evaluate their own lifestyles and make sustainable changes to their lives—whether that is exercising for the first time, redefining what a healthy relationship with exercise is like, or using exercise to improve their mood, cope with an event, or relieve stress,” said Rasnick.

Healthy Eating Assessment and Referral Team provides high quality, interdisciplinary, coordinated assessment and referral services to individuals coping with disordered eating habits. The collaborative team is comprised of licensed health care providers and counselors from Cook Counseling Center, Schiffert Health Center, and Recreational Sports. Depending on the student’s situation and diagnosis, exercise may or may not be recommended.

Sixty clients, including the student referenced above, were connected to health coaching through these programs in 2015. Students participating in the Exercise is Medicine program can receive either five personal training sessions, a group exercise pass, or a six-week small group training session for free.

For five years, the Exercise is Medicine (EIM) initiative of the American College of Sports Medicine has helped build local networks to support the systematic integration of physical activity into treatment, management, and prevention of chronic diseases. EIM-OC launched its recognition program in 2014 to honor campuses for their participation and engagement in EIM. Based upon activities on campus and levels of engagement, schools establish themselves as a Gold-, Silver-, or Bronze-level campus.

Based at the American College of Sports Medicine’s national headquarters in Indianapolis, the EIM Global Research and Collaboration Center is composed of leading scientists and clinicians in the area of physical activity and non-communicable diseases, who work on the EIM Global Health Initiative.

Written by Holly Paulette.

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