Exercise is Medicine: USC Aiken program equips students with the tools and confidence to take charge of their health

The University of South Carolina Aiken's Department of Campus Recreation and Wellness is helping students and faculty improve their health and wellbeing through the Exercise is Medicine (EIM) program, a partnership with the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). The program educates and promotes physical activity as a vital sign for health, as exercise can be a catalyst to improve biometrics such as weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.

Director of Campus Recreation and Wellness Mila Padgett says, "We want to educate students on how exercise can be a component in an overall strategy regarding health and wellbeing. We teach them to use the body's natural ability to prevent chronic disease alongside other forms of medicine when needed."

Padgett launched EIM at USC Aiken in 2012 in collaboration with the Department of Exercise and Sport Science after learning of its division specifically designed for colleges, Exercise is Medicine on Campus. The program targets students who want to be physically active but may not know where to begin. Referrals also come from the PAVS (Physical Activity Vital Sign) program of the Counseling Center and the Student Health Center in their efforts to connect students to the benefits of being physically active.

"EIM is made for people who want to improve their health but don't know where to start," Padgett says. "We start by connecting them with a peer at the university who then coaches them through a structure to follow. Many people are intimidated to work out in a public setting, and we want to give them the confidence and the tools to overcome that hurdle."

EIM is free for faculty and staff and has the added benefit of practical application for Exercise and Sports Science majors, who serve as coaches for the program. Participants begin by meeting with a coach to discuss their individual needs, followed by three sessions where they set goals and learn exercise protocols, the importance of weight training and how to measure vitals such as heart rate. The last session is focused on measuring progress and setting a path forward.

Padgett notes that in program evaluations, every participant has indicated an improvement in confidence level with regard to exercising in a fitness facility. She says, "We want people to own their own health and be confident in their ability to do that. If the confidence level isn't there, it is unlikely for a person to implement positive behaviors that impact both physical and mental wellbeing."

In 2022, the ACSM awarded USC Aiken's EIM program a microgrant to review the referral process for students into the EIM program. The goal was to double the number of participants and determine where students learn about the program. It was discovered that Inter-Curricular Enrichment (ICE) events focused on the EIM program generated the most referrals.

Padgett explains, "This does not negate the importance of the referral system with the Student Health Center and Counseling Center, but rather speaks to the importance of creating a culture on campus to emphasize the impact of exercise on physical health, anxiety and depression."

Last year, 25 students and faculty participated in EIM. Padgett hopes to increase that number to 25 each semester through an even more robust referral process and expansion to meet the needs of additional students.

For more information or to participate in the Exercise is Medicine program, please email eim@usca.edu

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