Step Challenges in Higher Education

Breaking down barriers to engagement among students & faculty.

Workplace wellness has innumerable benefits. It improves health behaviors and productivity, decreases health risks, and builds and sustains morale. One engaging way to impact wellness is by hosting step challenges. Starting your university wellness program is relatively straightforward. The number one roadblock you’ll face? Encouraging people who are just getting started in their wellness journey to get active. 

People who are relatively or exceptionally active already will be inspired by the competition. They’ll park toward the back of the lot, take the steps instead of the elevator, and take a quick walk during the lunch hour. 

So how do you inspire the people you really want to motivate, people living a more sedentary lifestyle? You take a look at what barriers prevent people from being active, and then make a plan to address them.

The CDC recognizes several barriers to physical activity, including lack of time, social support, lack of energy, lack of motivation, fear of injury, lack of skill, high costs and lack of facilities, and weather conditions. You can create policies and resources to address these challenges before, during, and after your next step challenge. It’s time to get students and staff moving!

Barrier #1: Lack of time

Everyone’s busy. All the time. So how can you adapt to help students and staff find the time to exercise? By getting creative. 

Modify office hours expectations. Encourage professors to use 20 or 30 minutes of their office hours each day for a walk. Better yet, suggest that they hold walking meetings with students if possible. 

Offer walking classes as part of the physical education component for degrees. Offer them plentifully and offer them often. Encourage advisors to make sure students know these classes are available. 

If you’re really ready to think outside the box, consider walking seminar classes. By using a blended classroom model, researchers in Sweden tested this teaching strategy and found positive reactions from both students and teachers. Students completed virtual seminars before class and completed the seminar in small groups, with the expectation that they would lead some of the discussion. Activity levels, engagement, and enjoyment increased based on survey results. Could you encourage walking seminars during your next step challenge?

Barrier #2: Social support

Step challenges are a great reason for people to spend time moving together. Those walks are also a perfect time for conversation. Leverage the power of those active chats by offering engaging “Walk and Talk” prompts during your step challenge. In doing so you encourage physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing. Possible topics are almost endless:

  • ‘Get to know you’ questions for roommates
  • Discussions about teaching strategies between professors
  • Prompts for dating couples
  • Class discussions between students

Barrier #3: Lack of energy

Part of being constantly busy means that college students and staff are also constantly tired. Unfortunately, you can’t magically increase energy levels, no matter how many coffee shops are on campus. Instead, provide information about how physical activity – like walking- can improve energy. Encourage participants to schedule exercise when they know they will have enough energy to get moving.

Barrier #4: Lack of motivation

Social connections are an incredible factor in motivation. Utilize established relationships to inspire wellness program participation. Encourage various student groups to compete amongst themselves or against each other, such as two sororities going head to head for the most steps. 

The same strategy can be used to inspire staff. Campus custodians can battle for the highest step count, or foreign language teachers can try to best art professors. 

Consider what prizes and rewards actually motivate staff and students as well as how they are earned. If you only celebrate the highest step counts, inactive people will remain reluctant to participate. If they feel unlikely to earn the highest number of steps, they might think it’s not worth putting in the effort. Instead, recognize growth and consistency among participants. 

Barrier #5: Fear of injury

Walking is one of the most risk-free exercises people can perform. In addition, the list of benefits is extensive. Fight fear by sharing positive information about how increasing your steps can positively impact your health.

Barrier #6: Lack of inclusivity

While step challenges don’t require a great deal of previous knowledge, they may feel foreign to people unable to walk or achieve high activity levels. It’s important that any activity challenge is completely inclusive to all ability levels, body types, and fitness levels.

 The Walker Tracker activity converter allows you to convert a number of physical activities into a step count. Activities like yoga, swimming, and gardening are included! Walker Tracker also includes pre-flight coaching to make sure that your challenge parameters and incentives include people of all ability levels and body types.

Barrier #7: High cost and lack of facilities

Many campuses offer free or highly discounted rates to their fitness facilities for students and staff. If you don’t, it might be time to consider adopting that practice for the health of everyone involved. 

For students and staff that physically come to classes, create a campus map. Provide information on specific routes that they could take. Include varying lengths, such as ½ mile, 1 mile, 2 miles, and more. The average number of steps in a mile is 2,000, so you can further motivate challenge participants by including the estimated number of steps for each walking route. 

Barrier #8: Weather conditions

You may not be able to control the weather, but you can suggest indoor movement exercises when rain, snow, and cold force people inside. Have some fun with it and record your mascot (or other beloved university figures) leading short fitness videos. 

Walker Tracker can help you get your next university step challenge up and running. Let’s talk about how!

Break barriers at your organization

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