Exercise program strengthens students’ mental health

Exercise program strengthens students’ physical and mental health

Donation helps students deal with stress and anxiety

Attending post-secondary school can be stressful – and if you’re already dealing with anxiety, it can be downright overwhelming.

NAIT donor Linda (Aboughoche) Haymour (Court Reporting ’76) has seen how anxiety can impact students. After retiring from the courtroom, Haymour spent years helping students with disabilities by transcribing classroom lectures in real-time.

When the opportunity came up to fund a new exercise program at NAIT to help students manage mild to moderate anxiety, Haymour was all for it.

Students with anxiety can “become isolated, and then their self-confidence wavers,” she says.“If there’s a program where you can go to a class and there are people like you, that’s wonderful.”

Physical activity relieves symptoms of anxiety

Physical activity can help with symptoms of anxiety, says clinical psychologist Dr. Tanya Spencer, lead for student counselling at NAIT.

“Mental and physical health cannot be divorced. They’re one and the same,” says Spencer, who collaborated on the program with Campus Recreation. “This is an opportunity not just to show them how to exercise properly but do so with some social support.”

The program launched last fall. Over 5 weeks, lead trainer Gail Rogers (Personal Fitness Trainer ’06) worked in a private setting with students in groups of 5 to boost confidence and improve fitness levels with cardio and strength workouts.

“People with anxiety have the tendency to walk into a gym and think ‘I’m way too intimidated and I need to leave.’”

“People with anxiety have the tendency to walk into a gym and think ‘I’m way too intimidated and I need to leave,’” says Rogers. “But it’s so vital to their physical and mental health.”

After a few weeks, Rogers took them into the larger Fitness Weight Centre as a group to learn how equipment works, as well as proper gym etiquette, like sharing machines. At the beginning, “there’s a definite ‘oh my gosh, can we go back to the private room?’ [moment],” she says. But it didn’t take long for students to feel more comfortable – and retrain their minds as much as their bodies.

“You could see them become more relaxed,” Rogers says. “They shared about their lives, experiences and worries.”

Thanks to Haymour’s donation, the program will continue at NAIT for 3 years. The impact, however, has the potential to last much longer as students take their knowledge into gyms and fitness centres for years to come.

Published on  May 16, 2018