Successful Wellness Courses Gain New Topics

By Mary Hennigan
The Razorback Reporter

Tai-Chi and Nature Treatment have been added to the UA academic catalog for students to take as a part of the Wellness Initiative.

The eight-week, one-credit-hour courses will help students “focus on disengaging from technology and focusing in the present moment,” said Ed Mink, assistant professor and director of wellness and health promotion at the Pat Walker Health Center.

Ed Mink, assistant professor and director of wellness and health promotion at the Pat Walker Health Center. Photo by Mary Hennigan.

Of the 16 courses already available to students, Mink said students reported a decrease in stress, anxiety and depression. Unprompted, students reported seeing an overall increase in academic performance and GPA as well. More than 70% of surveyed students reported the Wellness course helped with anxiety and stress, according to Mink’s data. More than half reported the course contributed to their academic success.

“From the moment that students set foot on campus, they begin to encounter stressors that they have not previously encountered in their lives,” Mink said. “We know medically as well that overwhelmingly, so many medical diagnoses, psychological diagnoses, have their origin in stress.”

Classes typically average 15 students and fill very fast, Mink said. Upon completion, many students will refer their friends to the course. Because of the low attendance, some senior students reported waiting for years to get into an offered topic.

“It breaks my heart, but we are limited by resources,” Mink said. “It just proves the efficacy of these courses.”

Tai-Chi will encourage students to practice mindful movements of the body. Nature Treatment will introduce the Japanese practice, ShinRin-Yoku, or a forest bathing technique. With all available courses, Mink has asked students to keep journals about their experiences. He has collected 25 years of writings and he uses them as a measuring technique to track the behavioral practice of each specific course.

“Yes, it’s a break from the conventional academics, but once they find out about the value of the classes, that’s why they take them,” Mink said.

Nature Rx, for example, focuses on encouraging students to spend time in nature to develop an appreciation of the natural world, according to the UARK Wellness website. For the first time, the College of Education and Health Professions partnered with University Recreation for the Nature Rx class to “diversify the classroom experience,” said Kenny Williams, coordinator of UREC outdoors. Spending time outside is one of the best ways to stay centered and healthy, Williams said.

The collaboration of the Nature Rx course has included taking students on a nature walk, giving a short lecture about detaching from technology, and Shinrin-Yoku practices.

“Research shows just a five- or 10-minutes walk unplugged from your device, soaking up the woods, can actually physiologically bring down your stress levels,” Williams said.

With the addition of the new courses, Mink said he hopes students will find practices to become more resilient on their own. Instead of healing after an individual is diagnosed with an illness, the Wellness classes encourage building a strong foundation that is less likely to get sick. Getting sick causes students to miss class and “it doesn’t take long to dig an academic hole, but it takes forever to dig out of an academic hole,” Mink said.

Courses can be found by searching PBHL 2101 in UAConnect.