Last October as the Pokémon Go craze swept the nation, dozens of BYU students were treated to an unusual sight—a Pikachu tromping around campus. In between taking selfies with students, the mascot vainly tried to use its stubby arms to stabilize a foam board sign hanging from its neck that advertised an upcoming Pokéthon 3K run/walk for the BYU community.
That weekend, 140 people attended the event, chasing Pokémon as they completed the course. Few knew that their participation was a fulfillment of the hopes of a small cadre of BYU professors trying to improve BYU fitness levels, and that it would contribute to BYU being recognized as a Bronze Level Campus by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), a distinction awarded on June 1, 2017.
Nursing professors Dr. Neil Peterson and Craig Nuttall and exercise science professor Dr. James LeCheminant are working together to implement the college campus version of an ACSM program called Exercise is Medicine. The initiative focuses on improving the fitness levels of community members through holding events, education, and evaluating people’s fitness using a measure known as the Physical Activity Vital Sign, which measures how much people exercise per week.
“Exercise is something that frankly is probably one of the most important things in medicine right now, because it can treat most diseases that are out there,” Nuttall says. “You exercise, your diabetes risk goes down. You exercise, your hypertension risk goes down. You exercise, your cancer risk goes down.”
“The scientific evidence of the benefits of physical activity to support and improve health is overwhelming,” LeCheminant says. “Health initiatives in large venues, such as a university setting, have the potential to positively impact many people. Promoting ACSM’s theme of ‘Exercise is Medicine’ puts focus on health which can lead to a higher quality and more productive life.”
The Pokéthon was the pinnacle of the team’s efforts; it also helped qualify BYU to earn the Bronze Level Campus ranking. Other work has included teaching BYU nursing students about the Physical Activity Vital Sign and evaluating work that the university has already done to increase physical activity, such as closing down parts of Campus Drive and improving sidewalk availability.
The organizers of Exercise is Medicine told Peterson, who is the project leader, that they were surprised to see the large role of the BYU College of Nursing in this endeavor, given that most universities were wholly reliant on their exercise science departments to implement the program.
“They were really happy that our leadership team is interdisciplinary,” Peterson says. “Another thing that was impressive that they mentioned to me was that at our Pokéthon fun walk two thirds of our participants were community members, so we weren’t just getting people on campus. It wasn’t just faculty, staff, and students; we had a very sizeable community involvement because we do want to make our campus healthier, but they see the campus as an epicenter for the community.”
The Bronze Level recognition will last two years, but the team plans to find ways to earn possibly a Silver Campus ranking in the next year.
“The university should be very proud of the efforts that they’ve done already to make the campus safer for pedestrians, making it a more walkable campus, and really using the built environment to promote physical activity,” Peterson says. “These different levels of the awards help to give us direction to make sure that we are meeting what some national recommendations are as far as improving physical activity and reducing sedentary behavior on campus and in the surrounding community.”