Exercise is medicine. It is the start, or continuation, of a wondrous journey. It’s the superpower of healing, warding off the demons of stress, anxiety and depression.
It is the release of endorphins as the mind and body work together in harmony to push past excuses and into substantial growth, both mentally and physically. It is daring oneself to go beyond previous limits, unlocking lasting inner and outer strength, while expanding the realm of one’s capabilities.
It is a reminder of how rare and lucky it is to be alive at all, a celebration of human endurance, ranging from relaxing to exhilarating.
Perhaps more importantly than anything else, it is an experience unique to the individual. No matter one’s past experience or the time and intensity of one’s exercise ambitions, the ability to exercise should not be limited by any factor.
Access to exercise for people of all abilities and backgrounds is a key part of the philosophy of Exercise is Medicine (EIM).
EIM is a global health initiative launched in 2007 by the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Medical Association.
According to their website, the vision of EIM is to have health care providers assess every patient’s level of physical activity at every clinic visit, determine if the patient is meeting the U.S. National Physical Activity Guidelines, provide patients with brief counseling advice to help him or her meet the guidelines and to refer the patient to either health care or community-based resources for further physical activity (PA) counseling and guidance.
Exercise is Medicine On Campus is a subset of the organization, which calls upon universities and colleges to promote physical activity as a vital sign of health.
Illinois State University’s chapter of Exercise is Medicine On Campus began in the 2014-15 academic year. It has since reached gold-level recognition by the American College of Sports Medicine.
“When we started, the idea was just to do outreach activities for the campus community, but what we found is that there was a need for more individualized physical activity programming for some students on campus,” said EIMOC Coordinator Dr. Kristen Lagally.
The program offers personal training so that activities are individualized to one’s needs, wants and abilities. In order to become involved, one must get a referral from Student Health Services or Student Counseling Services.
Students within the kinesiology department provide training. Clients work with kinesiology students in the initial phase, then work with campus recreation trainers in phase 2.
This allows for the relationships between trainers and clients to flourish, which helps get the client past anxiety and hesitation and onto a track that gets them excited and engaged with their personalized exercise experience.
The program works together with Campus Recreation, Health Promotion and Wellness, the SMART clinic, and Student Health and Counseling Services to make physical activity easier and accessible for students.
This Registered Student Organization differs from a traditional RSO because it was organized primarily to promote the idea of “exercise is medicine,” while providing the program with the benefits that an RSO has access to.
“One of the services EIM is really trying to provide is an exercise environment for students who are nervous or anxious for a variety of reasons. It might be they’re unfamiliar with equipment or they’re unsure what the right exercises are to do. They might feel uncomfortable in the traditional gym setting. We try to provide them with an environment that helps them get past whatever it is that is keeping them from being more physically active,” said Lagally.
The program rejects the idea that exercise must be performed in a strict manner and environment. It embraces the vast exercise opportunities that one can practice when seeking physical activity, thus allowing for a more open experience.
“I think people get stressed out that they’re not doing it right or they’re doing the wrong thing, and there’s really no such thing as that. It’s just a matter of doing something, and that’s really the approach we try to take,” said Lagally.
In the future, the program hopes to continue to provide campus outreach activities, including an annual walk in October, while also strengthening relationships with its partnering organizations.
In line with the understanding that exercise is medicine, physical activity can be more accessible and beneficial for everyone, regardless of one’s reservations or ideas of what exercise should look like.