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Award-winning campaign encourages university students to get moving

The Toronto Pan Am Games mascot Pachi along with members of UTSC's Physical Activity Coaches & Educators (PACE) team. At UTSC, the MoveU campaign has added several unique partnerships and plenty of opportunity for physical activities. (Photo by Laurie Wright)

This week, Active Healthy Kids Canada gave Canadian children a failing grade for overall physical activity. Seeing a D- on the report card may come as a shock for some, but a growing body of research clearly shows that Canadian kids aren’t as active as they should be. Young adults are no different – studies show that a striking number of post-secondary students lead sedentary lifestyles.

To combat this, the University of Toronto has committed to making physical activity an integral part of the educational experience. With an innovative community engagement initiative known as MoveU, students on each of U of T’s three campuses are given the resources they need to get and stay active. Launched three years ago in partnership with ParticipACTION, the program was recently recognized by the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) as best-in-class for its integrated marketing campaign.

“Over a decade of national report cards on physical activity among Canada’s children and youth have indicated a failing grade,” said Michelle Brownrigg, director of physical activity and equity at U of T’s St. George campus. “Our objective with MoveU is to reach young people who have been de-activating and re-engage them in the joy of movement.”

A key element to the program’s success has been its “a fit for everybody” approach. Every student, regardless of age, race or location on campus, can benefit from the tips and tools MoveU offers. MoveU reaches out to those who have typically low participation rates in recreational activities – namely young women, international students and students from marginalized communities. Through social media, non-traditional events and student-led teams, the program inspires and educates students about the benefits of being active. Not only does the campaign work to help students understand how physical activity improves overall health and wellbeing, it highlights the positive impact it can have on academic performance.

“Research has proven that physical activity lowers stress levels, improves sleep patterns and boosts concentration. MoveU encourages student to see physical activity in a different light – as a core part of the entire university experience, rather than a break from it,” said Scott McRoberts, director of athletics and recreation at U of T Scarborough.

Adds Chad Jankowski, health education coordinator, health and counselling centre at U of T’s Mississauga campus, “Student-driven physical activity that also includes opportunities for social connection provide added incentive for getting active and further enhances the mental and emotional health benefits of healthy active living.”

MoveU’s print ads and social media presence, combined with branded physical activity programs and peer health outreach, have sparked a growing movement toward health and fitness on campus—and the message is spreading. In 2013, Sheridan College launched its own MoveU campaign aimed at encouraging physical activity among students. 

“MoveU shows students that physical activity is not a break from their schoolwork,” said Brownrigg. “It is a path to achieving academic goals, a way to connect with peers and a way to embrace recreational activities at the university as a core part of their educational and student experience.”

© University of Toronto Scarborough