Maryville College doesn’t just want its students to hit the books. It wants them to hit the court, the trail or the dance floor.
Toss a ball or bean bag for cornhole. Play spike ball or strike a yoga pose.
President Tom Bogart even tossed a flying disc with students before delivering a proclamation during a noon rally Wednesday, Oct. 9, celebrating Exercise Is Medicine on Campus (EIM-OC) Awareness Month. This is the third year the college has participated in the program to make physical activity part of its campus culture.
“While not all of us are athletes, all of us can benefit from being physically active in our own way,” Jeremy Steeves, assistant professor of exercise science, noted during the event.
“Find your own way to move, that you enjoy, that is fun for you,” he said, “because there is no best single form of exercise out there. The best form is the exercise that you enjoy doing, because that will make you do it.”
The college is encouraging students to take a broad view of what it means to exercise. “It’s anything that gets you moving and is fun,” Bogart said in an interview before the event.
Exercise is not only good for the physical and mental health of individuals but also for the campus community, he said.
A former college soccer player, Bogart returned to running in his 40s and discovered, “I actually do enjoy running. I just never realized it before.”
Steeves noted during the rally that he often sees Bogart on the Greenway while Steeves is pushing a stroller with his wife and children.
After reading the proclamation, Bogart encouraged the students to join him. “I’ll see you all about 5:15 tomorrow morning on the Greenway for a nice run.”
Wellness Coordinator Josh Anderson highlighted the range of opportunities available on campus, from weekly yoga and line dancing to intramural sports and the Mountain Challenge program Camp 4, which also is open to the public on Wednesday afternoons until early December.
“We believe that people are made to move,” said Mountain Challenge fellow Amy Turpin. “We believe that fitness doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be as simple as throwing around a Frisbee or doing a pickup game of soccer or playing some cornhole.”
During the rally they took the “Rock Paper Scissors” game to a new level as “Evolution,” with players starting as eggs and progressing to chicken, snake, eagle and human as they won challenges and showed their new forms with arm movements.
The rally ended with Amanda Matthews, a sign language major, leading the group of about 50 students in line dances to the songs “Katchi” and “I Don’t Like It, I Love It.” Even some students passing on the walkway nearby tried a few of the moves.
Matthews, a resident adviser on campus, was drawn to the community aspect of line dancing and first offered a session at one of the residence halls.
Now she teaches it in the Alumni Gym. When people first arrive for the weekly class they may hesitate a bit, she said, but when the dancing begins, “people start laughing and having a good time, and I see people leaving with a smile on their face and even a little sweaty. Even though it’s just line dancing, you get a little bit of a workout in.”
Steeves explained in an interview after the rally the academic benefit of exercise, too, particularly when done outside, giving students a distraction so that when they return to study they can better focus.
At the Student Health Center on campus, the nurse now measures physical activity along with the five other vital signs: temperature, blood pressure, pulse, respiration and pain level.
She asks on average how many days and minutes students engage in moderate to strenuous activity. The goal recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is at least 150 minutes a week.
Taking the measure is not only an opportunity to gather data but also for the nurse to engage students in a conversation about the benefits of physical activity.
During the past school year, 52% of students measured at the health center were meeting that goal, Steeves said. That’s comparable to the national average and above the state average. The Tennessee Department of Health reported a year ago only 45% of Tennessee adults were reaching the goal.
Last fall, more than 200 Maryville College students participated in physical activity classes at the college, with yoga the most popular, followed by Zumba and Cardio Hip Hop. Participation rose to more than 250 in the spring semester.
In the first five weeks of this semester, 139 students have participated in yoga or line dancing in the newly renovated Alumni Gym.
The college plans to host three more “Play Days” in October and then two a month after that to encourage students to explore different types of physical activity.
On Oct. 26 the college will host its third Pumpkin Run, which started with 40 participants the first year and is open to the public. “We’re hoping to break 100 again,” Steeves said.
The college also is hosting a social media contest, encouraging people to post photos with #MCScotsMove on Instagram.