The Gustavian Weekly

Walktober welcomes walking: Peer Assistants host three mental health awareness walks | The Gustavian Weekly

By Emily VanGorder - News Writer | October 12, 2018 | News

Walktober is a monthlong event organized by the Peer Assistants which “invites students to bring awareness of the benefits physical activity has on mental health,” by getting outside to take themed walks around campus between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. during the first three Thursdays of the month.

On Thursday, October 4, the theme for the day was a Poker Walk.

The theme on Thursday, October 11, was the Resource Scavenger Hunt Walk, and Thursday, October 18 will be the Mindfulness Walk.

The Peer Assistants “promote the idea of holistic health,” and “want people to understand that different aspects of our lives interact and impact our overall health,” Senior Psychology major Emma Pittelko said.

“Many people view mental health as entirely unrelated to physical health, sexual health as entirely unrelated to chemical health. We recognize the interconnectedness of all these different categories of health,” Pittelko said.

“For Walktober, we are focusing on the interaction between mental health and physical health. By walking and being outside, we’re hoping people will be relieving stress,” Pittelko said.

“I think it’s really cool that we’re placing emphasis on mental health and getting students to [interact] with nature as a way to get students outside, out of the classroom and away from their desks. Getting students to leave their non-stop homework and studying, and focusing instead on taking a break is great” Sophomore Kati Williams said.

With the stress of academic life and approaching midterms, “the month of October can start to feel overwhelming,” Director of Peer Education and Chemical Health Laura Herbst-Johnson said.

Herbst-Johnson continued, saying, “Stress and anxiety are the top two academic impediments for our students, according to the National Collegiate Health Association, and physical activity… is often the first thing we drop from our to-do list.”

The National Sleep Foundation has found that a “brisk walk in the afternoon” can improve sleep. Additionally, walking can raise levels of serotonin, the “happy” hormone, which results in relaxation. The rise in body temperature that comes with exercise also signals the brain to lower temperature later, which promotes sleep.

Walking can also “relieve depression, anxiety, and stress,” researchers from the University of Texas said.

When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, chemicals that diminish the sensation of pain and lead to the euphoric sensation known as “runner’s high” after exercising.

Walking has been shown to “reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, improve blood pressure, maintain your body weight, enhance mental well- being, [and] reduce risk of osteoporosis, breast, and colon cancer,” according to the American Medical Association’s website.

The 50 participants who attended the Poker Walk last Thursday were polled afterwards about the effect of the walk on their mood.

Of those on the walk, 97 percent reported that their moods had increased, which “is why we do this type of programming, and in our minds [this] has already made Walktober a success,” Herbst- Johnson said.

“If we can make any positive change, no matter how small, that’s what makes the work feel worthwhile. If one student was having a bad day and participating in the Poker Walk made that a bit better or gave them ideas about tools they can use to improve their mood, we have succeeded,” Pittelko said.

Last Thursday was the Mental Health Resources Scavenger Hunt, and the final Walktober event will be the Mindfulness Walk in the Arb next Thursday, October 18.

Students who participate in any event are eligible for a gift card to the Book Mark, while students who participate in all three Walktober events are qualified for a grand prize: two tickets to a Vikings game or a $100 gift card to the Book Mark.

The Peer Assistants are available Monday- Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4:45 p.m., in the Peer Education Office (located in the lower level of the Campus Center).

They are “resources to help you with any issues that may arise… in the Peer Education Office… you can relax on the couch, do homework at the large table, meet friends and have a cup of tea or coffee,” the PA website states.

The PAs provide programs, activities, and resources related to stress management, chemical health, mental health, sexual health, and nutrition and financial well- being.

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