• Keeping Active at UChicago

    Athletics and Recreation's Options Benefit Students’ Physical and Mental Health

By Anne Hartman Raether

Despite packed schedules, many UChicago students are avoiding an exercise rut while engaging in friendly competition with their peers or picking up a new fitness routine, thanks to offerings through Athletics and Recreation.  

Athletics and Recreation has a host of opportunities throughout the year to help students stay active, regardless of their experience or skill level. The options include high-intensity classes and intramural sports, such as Zumba or floor hockey, as well as slower-paced workouts, like yoga, to help participants destress.

“In a rigorous academic environment, it’s helpful for students to get out of the libraries and dorms for physical activity,” said Assistant Athletic Director Brian Bock. “We understand that wellness and physical fitness are key components to everyday living and receiving a holistic education.”

Elliot Levy got involved in intramural sports during his first year, thanks to the encouragement of his friends in Maclean House. Now a fourth year, Levy has tried his hand at 26 intramural sports.

“Intramural sports offer a chance for me to exercise, and they have been a fantastic way for me to destress during the week,” Levy said. “Especially during very difficult times (like midterms or Winter Quarter), it’s super important to take care of your body, and intramural sports are such an easy way to do that.”

UChicago students, as well as post-docs, can join any of the 32 intramural sports. Students typically sign up as teams—often formed in Houses or academic programs—but free agents can also offer their skills to a team needing an extra player. Sports include soccer, basketball, and volleyball, as well as less traditional offerings, like inner tube water polo, floor hockey, backgammon, and spades.

“I never would have played most of these sports if it weren’t for the intramural program,” said Helen Wilkey, who’s played inner tube water polo, broomball, volleyball, and basketball, among others. Wilkey also praised the social benefits she’s gained through intramural sports.

“Intramural sports are good for students not only because of the involved exercise, but also because of the community building,” she said. “There are a lot of people I wouldn’t be friends with if not for intramural sports, but also my House wouldn’t be as close, and at a place like UChicago, the support system a House or team provide is great for improving mental health.”

For students who can’t commit to a team, FitChicago offers daily, drop-in fitness classes, including kickboxing, bootcamp, barre, Pilates, and water aerobics.

“Nobody cares if you’ve done the activity before or what kind of skills you bring,” said Associate Athletic Direct Brian Baldea. “The classes really benefit the students—they’re informal, unstructured, fun, and give relief from the other things they’re doing.”

Zumba has become especially popular, with classes being offered six days per week. Kim Lewis, a doctoral student in the Integrative Neuroscience program, has taken Zumba classes since college, and became a certified instructor three years ago. Now an instructor for FitChicago classes, Lewis aims to create a positive, rewarding experience that encourages attendees to stay active.

“It’s a very fun, low-pressure, noncompetitive atmosphere,” Lewis said of her classes. “My impression from people who haven’t done Zumba before is that the main thing holding them back is a fear of looking silly or out of shape or not being the greatest dancer in the room, but then they show up and realize they have nothing to worry about.”

Students can also enjoy one-time offerings through Athletics and Recreation, such as a swim meet each February, featuring individual events and relays and a men’s, women’s, and overall winner. Seasoned swimmers and newbies enjoy the chance to take a break from the books in favor of friendly competition.

“Students are busy, and [Athletics and Recreation’s offerings] give them time to forget about their exams or job interviews for a little while,” Bock said. “It’s a release and an opportunity to temporarily forget about the ‘real world,’ be social, and have fun.”