Creating a culture of wellness at St. Ambrose

Christopher Schwartz
Exercise is Medicine members take a walk on the St. Ambrose University campus in Davenport last month.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — St. Ambrose University has earned recognition for creating a culture of wellness on campus.

Faculty and staff health coaching programs, walking groups, educational seminars and “plogging” initiatives helped SAU’s Exercise in Medicine chapter meet the criteria for silver level designation from the Exercise is Medicine On Campus (EIM-OC) program. SAU was among 149 universities and colleges honored last month with gold, silver or bronze designation.

Assistant professors Erica Thomas and Christopher Schwartz run SAU’s five-year-old EIM chapter with assistance from student leaders. The silver achievement status is a first for the university. “It is recognition that our program is doing more than just promoting physical activity on campus,” Schwartz said. “We are actively creating programs and events that engage the campus in physical activity and health practice.”


In 2018, the university’s EIM chapter started small by offering personal weight room instruction to individuals who “may have been intimidated to try on their own,” Schwartz said. The program has grown since then. EIM offers a walking group that meets daily at noon and has organized several “plogging” (picking up litter while jogging) events. Student health coaches offer one-on-one coaching to faculty and other students on a volunteer basis.

The 50-plus members join EIM for a variety of reasons, Schwartz explained. Most are looking for help and advice about how to more effectively engage in physical activity. Some are hoping to lose weight. Others want to combat daily stress and sleep better at night. “I think the biggest motivator for people is an interest in health and wellness. When they see others gathering or talking about ways to exercise more or eat more healthfully or decrease stress in healthy ways, they want to be a part of that. In our health coaching program, a lot of participants just want someone to hold them accountable and a friendly, supportive face to talk to about their health journey.”

Seth Crawley, a student health coach, is enrolled in SAU’s Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree Program. Involvement in EIM offers “real world” experience helping others to achieve their health and wellness goals. “EIM has helped me become better at managing and directing conversations and positively influencing people to be their best selves.”

EIM-OC launched its recognition program in 2014 to honor campuses for their efforts to create a culture of wellness. Gold-level campuses have created a referral system where campus health care providers assess student physical activity and refer students as necessary to a certified fitness professional as part of medical treatment. Silver campuses engage students, faculty and staff in education initiatives and make movement part of the daily campus culture while bronze level campuses promote and generate awareness of the health benefits of physical activity.

Schwartz is proud of SAU’s silver achievement and believes the university is capable of achieving gold status in the future. The chapter hopes to continue growing on campus and expanding into the community through partnerships with local health and wellness organizations and expanding its health coaching program. “We are just now gaining momentum on campus, and hope to keep moving forward so that more people are aware of Exercise is Medicine and also hopefully get excited about the events and programs we offer.”

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