Chilling Out

Exercise can help in stressful times.

(courtesy of Virginia Tech)

EACH MORNING, A GROUP OF YOUNG men and women used to gather at Virginia Tech War Memorial Gym to play basketball. When the pandemic shut down their favorite sport, some of them decided to try something new: pickleball.

“It’s been a huge hit. One of the players jokes about it, but he says, ‘Pickleball is my outlet now. Who would have thought?’” says Ali Cross, director of recreational sports for Virginia Tech’s more than 34,000 students and 7,000 employees.

Finding new ways to keep students and employees physically active and connected has been a priority for Cross. Over the past year, she has seen an increase in “stress, anxiety, and loneliness” on campus. “Physical activity can be an important tool for mental health by stimulating the release of endorphins, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These brain chemicals play an important part in regulating mood and boosting overall sense of well-being,” she says. In addition, recreation and sport can reduce stress by providing “a diversion from routine, connections with people, a competitive outlet, and an opportunity for fun.”

With so many activities shut down last year, “the goal became: what can we do?” she says. As a result, even as all the facilities and programs have reopened in some way, “we’ve stumbled into some things that we will probably keep as regular program offerings.”

In addition to pickleball, Cross shared some of the ways people are connecting, any of which people at home can try, too.

  • Livestreamed exercise classes. “We livestream all of our classes—yoga, cycling, Les Mills.” A small group takes part in the facility, while others connect virtually.
  • Going green. Social distancing and being outdoors has become a major program focus, whether that is golf, tennis, biking, paddling, bouldering, hiking, or playing on the new disc golf course.
  • Personal training apps. Apps like Coach Me Plus allow users to click through virtual, individually designed exercise sessions led by personal trainers.
  • Esports. Multiplayer online gaming options include NBA 2K, Mag 21, and Rocket League. “Even though our preference is to find activities that allow your body to move, esports is providing community, and that’s important too.”

This article originally appeared in the June 2021 issue.

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