Students exercising with masks on

The University of Florida was among 73 college campuses worldwide to receive gold-level recognition by the American College of Sports Medicine’s Exercise is Medicine initiative. This marks the third consecutive year that UF has won the top award.

The Exercise is Medicine initiative, part of the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world, promotes physical activity as standard part of clinical care. Started in 2014, the program also recognized 80 other campuses with silver- or bronze-level awards for highlighting the benefits of physical activity. Gold-level campuses have referral networks that enable providers to refer students to fitness specialists as part of treatment.

UF was recognized for the Department of Recreational Sports’ referral partnerships with the Disability Resource Center, the Student Health Care Center, the Counseling and Wellness Center, GatorWell Health Promotion Services and the Care Area. The university also received a “COVID Conqueror Badge,” a new honor awarded to schools that launched effective virtual programming during the pandemic.

The awards show that staff successfully supported students’ overall well-being despite the pandemic, said Darcie Burde, director for fitness and wellness at RecSports.

“When we’re talking about the bigger picture, there’s substantially more to our virtual services than fitness,” she said. “RecSports as a whole did a fantastic job figuring out how to keep students involved in what we offer, whether they were at home for a long weekend, completely online or halfway across the world.”

A man playing basketball

Activities such as RecSports’ Basketball Skills Challenge enabled students to exercise while physically distancing. UF Division of Student Affairs photo by Matthew August

Since March 2020, RecSports has filmed and archived 284 fitness classes. Athletic training sessions, group fitness classes and nutrition counseling services were pivoted to online formats and the department launched videogame tournaments, courses in virtual team building and a Facebook group to share home workouts.

“When the time came that we needed to make the shift, we did a really good job of bringing a virtual program to students so they could still live in motion,” said Leah Shelley, associate director for fitness.

RecSports is part of the Division of Student Affairs and comprises two fitness centers, four swimming pools, the Center for Outdoor Recreation and Education, the Broward Outdoor Recreation Complex and fields and courts across campus. The department employs up to 800 students, who played a key role in helping implement safety policies, Burde said.

“An enormous amount of credit goes to the student staff, who were screening people upon entry and helping uphold safety policies,” Burde said.

Students doing yoga outside

On the second campus-wide Recharge Day, designed to promote rest amid a continuous semester in spring 2021, RecSports instructors held outdoor events for students. UF Division of Student Affairs photo by Matthew August

Typically, up to more than 14,000 students attend at least one group fitness class during the academic year. Shelley said that although fewer students likely attended group fitness classes during the pandemic, RecSports services reached new audiences.

“I think it’s important that we reached students who might not have set foot in our facilities otherwise,” she said. “We didn’t just stop because of the pandemic.”

Despite the challenges, providing students a space to safely exercise helped those in the area retain stable routines, Burde added.

“I think one of the biggest aspects in reopening was to be able to provide the students in town a safe place to go out and do something,” she said. “The emotional toll of figuring out what life is going to be like in a pandemic was a lot, and when we change behaviors, that can take a big toll on one’s mental health.”


Learn more about RecSports at UF.


Sources: Darcie Burde, dburde@ufsa.ufl.edu;
Leah Shelley, lshelley@ufsa.ufl.edu