Physical and Fiscal Fitness

By President Joan Hinde Stewart

Nearly a century ago, 97 percent of colleges and universities had a physical education requirement, according to a study published in Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport and reported earlier this year in USA Today. The number has declined to 39 percent today, a disturbing trend for a country increasingly concerned about the health of its population.

Hamilton offers students countless opportunities for enhancing fitness and wellness. We have 29 varsity teams, 14 club sports and 17 intramural activities; outdoor programs such as hiking, canoeing, ice-climbing and cross country skiing; and fitness classes and lectures. To receive a Hamilton degree, students must still fulfill a physical education requirement that includes a fitness test, a swimming test and participation in lifetime activity classes such as golf, tennis or squash.

It is obvious that Hamilton’s Physical Education Department, under the direction of Jon Hind ’80, is involved in a lot more than just intercollegiate athletics. Its recreational offerings, moreover, are supplemented by a popular Outdoor Adventure Program led by Andrew and Sarah Weis Jillings. A range of activities is important for a college that experiences the full effects of winter, takes seriously the physical welfare of its students, and believes in helping undergraduates develop skills and habits for a full and healthy life.

But health and wellness programming at Hamilton is no longer only for students. Similar opportunities are expanding for employees, testimony to our determination to make Hamilton a desirable place to work and to keep our most valuable resource healthy and fit, with the additional benefit of keeping institutional health-related expenses low. Hamilton’s Vice President for Administration and Finance Karen Leach believes, as do many employers, that the College’s best strategy for controlling health care costs is to encourage healthy living.

As director of the Charlean and Wayland Blood Fitness and Dance Center, Dave Thompson P’13 oversees wellness activities. In addition to a 5K run and walk for employees, the Wellness Program sponsors an annual fair featuring health care providers and vendors ranging from cardiologists to organic food suppliers, and a luncheon series with presentations ranging from stress management to diabetes care.

I know, of course, that fitness and wellness are not a one-size-fits-all undertaking. As a girl growing up in Brooklyn, the only team sport available to me was punch ball in the street, and I did not excel. I became reasonably good at our chief one-on-one sport, which was stoop ball. I avoided learning to swim, and my undergraduate college did not have a required swimming test (nor, for that matter, a pool). I finally took swimming classes as an assistant professor — the same classes that some of my students were taking — and can testify that mastering a life skill as an adult is a considerable challenge but a great satisfaction. Having been encouraged at Hamilton by Dave Thompson, Jon Hind and head swim coach T.J. Davis, I can also testify to the pleasure of laps in Bristol Pool.

In January, employees were invited to the inaugural “New Year’s Wellness Resolution Revolution,” which included remarks by co-workers who have made lifestyle changes, seminars on nutrition and smoking cessation, and advice on starting and maintaining a weight loss program. The Wellness Program, which also coordinates screenings, flu shot clinics and blood drives, will this spring celebrate the 10th anniversary of the HamTrek sprint triathlon. Employees who participate in such activities earn points, and the division with the most points at year end receives the College’s Wellness Cup. Information Technology Services is a two-time champion.

Health and wellness are a big part of today’s Hamilton, for students and employees alike. The value of our investment in these programs is a campus community with a slimmer waist line and a College with a healthier bottom line. 

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