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“Try and take the stairs this week”

“Try and take the stairs this week”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Observant

Encouragement programme for inactive students

Of course, you should exercise regularly, but actually getting down to doing so, is another story. Within the framework of Active Campus Europe – a two-year collaboration project of sixteen European universities to stimulate sports among students and employees – UM Sports will motivate ‘inactive’ students until the beginning of December to start exercising. Halfway through the eight-week ‘Move more, feel better’ project, Observant went to take a look at the participants.

Jogging in place, five students warm up in the UM Sports' Body and Mind Studio, spurred on by instructor Lieke de Wit. Workout Mix is on the programme today, one of the seven weekly activities that are being organised for a total of 26 (there was room for a maximum of 30) Move more, feel better participants. They are compelled to participate in at least one activity every week.

All the workouts are easily accessible, aimed at those who are just starting to do sports – Move more, feel better is meant for students who do not meet the World Health Organisation’s exercise standard for students: exercising with moderate intensity for 30 minutes 5 times a week, or a solid 20-minute workout three times a week. But you wouldn’t say so, looking at these students. In the first round of arm exercises with elastic bands, two break. Pulled a little too hard.

What is it that normally keeps these participants away from the gym but now makes them show up for these workouts?  “We really keep on top of matters,” says organiser Nadine Chudy. “They get a weekly newsletter, if they don't show up for two weeks, we send them an individual e-mail, there is a WhatsApp group in which they motivate each other and a Facebook group where we post messages a couple of times a week; things like ‘hey, its lovely weather today, why don't you go for a walk around the block?’”

In addition, every participant was given a personal interview of an hour at the beginning of the programme, with tips about combining exercising with studying, and how to introduce more exercising into daily routines. They also keep a diary of how many minutes they have exercised each day and there is a weekly target. Chudy: “Things like: try to take the stairs instead of the lift this week.”

“Those weekly targets work well for me. I now walk more and try to cycle instead of taking the bus. But it is very cold for cycling, that still stops me,” says Parniyan Maneshi, master's student of Biomedical Sciences. She tried out many sports, but then stopped. “Basketball, handball, table tennis, spinning… I did them all briefly and then became too busy, so I stopped. A friend of mine saw this programme. I was already planning to change my lifestyle, so this came at the perfect time.” Maneshi was even a member of UM Sports. “But I didn't go. I have to be motivated. As far as that is concerned, it would be good if there was a follow-up, for example, an e-mail once a month.” Still, she estimates that the chance of her continuing to exercise after this, is now higher than after a regular attempt at exercising. “I have already agreed with friends that we will keep on motivating each other.”

Alexandra Sillé, second-year student of Medicine, is more definite. She was already more active before the programme was launched. “I played softball, but that is a summer sport. The rest of the year, I tend to just work at my studies. I got good tips during the pre-programme interview about how to schedule sports activities. I now know that I can take a break now and again. What also helps, is that I see that they have invested a lot of time in setting up this project. So I want to contribute too.” The compulsory aspect – at least one activity every week – suits her. “Then I know that I have to go.”

In the Body and Mind Studio, De Wit shows how to do the ‘chicken walk’: by squatting and moving forward. One student, who can't participate because of an injury, is appointed as jury member. “You can decide who is the best chicken.” Panting, but also laughing, the participants get to the other side of the hall. “The fun together, that's what you come here for,” says Sillé. “That is how we motivate each other in the WhatsApp group.” Chudy feels that enjoying the exercising is very important. “That is why we also have the Social Sports, when we play a game or play ping-pong. Exercising is not just going to the gym.”

At the other sixteen universities that participate in the Active Campus Europe, similar programmes are being run. “That was one of the aims of the project, setting up a collective exercise encouragement programme for inactive students,” says Chudy. Another aim that they want to achieve before the end of 2019, is to draw up a handbook with universities’ ‘best practices’ for getting students moving. The Move more, feel better programme will be repeated in spring. An evaluation will also take place to see if the present participants continue to exercise after the project.

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