Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Mens Sana in Corpore Sano: Planning for Health and Wellness as a Building Block of Academic Success

Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Mens Sana in Corpore Sano: Planning for Health and Wellness as a Building Block of Academic Success

Article excerpt

Campus planning that encourages a healthy lifestyle also augments scholastic achievement, improving grades and increasing graduation rates.

COLLEGE STUDENTS WHO WORK OUT AT THE GYM may be flexing their brainpower as well. No longer inhabited primarily by athletic teams, today's ideal gym is the epicenter for health and wellness on campus, providing opportunities for all students to increase their physical fitness, fight off depression, and even bump up their GPAs. By building campus fitness centers that are accessible and appealing to everyone, colleges may be able to enhance graduation rates and encourage healthy behaviors that last a lifetime.

There is a movement afoot to make gym class a requirement on campus, with proponents citing research that exercise improves cognition and verbal memory and serves as a powerful antidote to depression and anxiety. Exercise enhances "fluid intelligence" or the ability to think on one's feet, a powerful skill for students to develop.

Studies suggest that students who exercise regularly have higher GPAs and are more likely to graduate than those who do not. Researchers at North Carolina State University analyzed 20,000 students' recreational activities during the 2013-14 school year and determined that for every extra hour each week students exercised, their odds of graduating increased by 50 percent and their GPA increased by 0.06. The study's co-author notes, "We see the benefits of exercise on anxiety and depression and stress.... There has to be a connection to academic success" (Wexler 2016, [paragraph] 9).

An observational study of 4,843 students at Michigan State University revealed that freshmen and sophomores who were members of the recreational sports and fitness centers on campus had higher GPAs than those who were not and also stayed in school longer (Danbert et al. 2014). "These results provide a compelling argument to universities that a higher student retention rate could be enhanced just by having adequate recreational and fitness facilities for students," the study's co-author concludes (Gleason and Pivarnik 2014, [paragraph] 4).

Purdue University discovered that first-years who regularly visited the campus gym averaged a 3.08 GPA compared to a 2.81 GPA for those who did not. Students claimed that going to the gym helped with time management and provided a sense of community, both critical to the first-year experience. A sophomore stated, "An active life makes you feel healthier physically, which is the first step to good academic performance" (Winer 2014, [paragraph] 20).

These findings reflect the healthy cultural Zeitgeist on campus. Students are aware of how exercise affects their mental and physical well-being. Besides going to the gym they participate in intramural sports in record numbers to the extent that Ultimate Frisbee--once limited to the college green--will be part of the 2024 Olympic Games.


The American College Health Association's (2012, p. 1) Standards of Practice encourage colleges to promote student success by "creating health supporting environments" through "the physical and the social aspects of our surroundings." This will make it easier for all members of a diverse campus community to choose healthy behavior. (See the sidebar "Health and Wellness Principles for Community/Campus Planning" for best practices in this area.)

One university that has embraced these standards is Cabrini in suburban Philadelphia. For years a Colonial States Athletic Conference (CSAC) Division III powerhouse, the university wanted a campus that encouraged all students, faculty, and staff to incorporate healthy activity into their daily lives. In developing a new master plan for the university, health and wellness design principles were used to frame the campus reorganization.

Simple strategies like restricting vehicle access to encourage foot traffic, tucking the elevator behind the stairway, increasing the number of bike racks, and replacing vending machines with juice bars were easy enhancements to build into the plan. …

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