Workout Wednesday: Cycle Cinema Sundays

Picture this – it’s a Sunday afternoon and you really want to watch a movie. But you also feel the urge to be active and exercise. Which one do you choose?! We have the solution for you – Cycle Cinema Sundays with UNC Campus Rec. With this, you can have it all.
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On certain Sundays, the Fetzer Hall cycle room will be transformed into a movie theatre. Pedal away as you watch beloved films, like Kung Fu Panda. To sign up, grab some friends and head over the SRC front desk. The next movie date is April 13th. For more information, and to learn about other special events with UNC Campus Rec, click here. Cycling can improve your life on several levels. Whether it’s to amp up your fitness, get places faster, or help the environment, cycling can get you there. Here are several benefits:

1. Low impact exercise: weak knees or sensitive joints? Cycling is for you – it’s a low impact way to increase your heart rate and get in the recommended 20-60 minutes, 5 days a week of cardiovascular exercise.

2. Decrease cancer risk: studies have shown that increased exercise helps reduce the risk of colon and breast cancer. Choose to cycle!

3. Build strength: Many people falsely believe that cycling only works out the legs. This simply isn’t true – cycling works the whole body as you work to propel the bike forward. From the biceps to the abdominals, biking uses almost the whole body.

4. Lose weight: A steady bicycle pace burns about 300 calories per hour. Using this number, you would burn 11 pounds of fat in a year biking 30 minutes per day.

5. Reduce stress: By raising your heart rate and focusing on a singular activity, biking can help you reduce stress and improve your mood. ​

Workout Wednesday blog posts are written by UNC Campus Recreation staff members. Each Wednesday we swap blog posts with the Tarheel Tone Up blog so that readers can view more diverse post topics that will benefit their health and wellness. Workout Wednesday blog posts can be found both here and on tarheeltoneup.com.

Making a Change: Are You Ready?

Have you ever thought about making a change? Perhaps creating a new habit? Studying more? Or finally kicking that late-night frosty habit that was only heightened by the recent discovery of the swirled chocolate and vanilla frosty?

We all want to make a change at some time or another. Through my work at Student Wellness, I’ve learned a bit about making changes.

I do motivational interviewing (MI) over at Student Wellness as a part of my job. MI is a type of counseling that is non-judgmental, non-confrontational, and non-adversarial, and focuses on eliciting “change talk” from clients. This is done, in part, by understanding the Stages of Change, and “meeting people where they are.”

So, without further ado, I present to you the Stages of Change (also called the Transtheoretical Model if you want to impress someone with how smart you are). I find this incredibly helpful for thinking about making positive, healthy changes in my own life, and I hope you find this useful as well.

Think about what it would take to move you from one stage to the next. Would weighing the pros and cons help? Would seeking out more information be useful? What would you change if you could? How about writing out a plan, or talking about making a change with a friend or family member? What are potential barriers to change? Whatever you want to change, you alone are the one that can do it. Hopefully, by understanding this model, you are now one step closer to making a small step towards positive changes in your life!

1) PRECONTEMPLATION (Not ready to change)
The individual is not currently considering change: “Ignorance is bliss.”
People are not intending to take action in the foreseeable future, usually in the next six months.

2) CONTEMPLATION(Thinking of changing)
Ambivalent about change: “Sitting on the fence.”
Not considering change within the next month.

3) PREPARATION (Ready to change)
Some experience with change and are trying to change: “Testing the waters.”
Planning to act within 1 month.

4) ACTION (Making change)
The active work toward desired behavioral change including modification of environment, experiences, or behavior have been taken. At this stage people have made specific overt modifications in their life-styles within the past six months.

5) MAINTENANCE (Staying on track)
Here, the focus is on ongoing, active work to maintain changes made and prevent relapse. At this stage people are less tempted to go back to their old habits and increasingly more confident that they can continue their change.

Take care of yourselves and each other, Tar Heels!

Dispelling the myth: “Condoms are for single people”

We hear it all of the time on campus: “I don’t need condoms or other safer sex supplies; I’m in a committed relationship.”  In heterosexual partnerships and partnerships between two males, research demonstrates an interesting trend:  those in casual or non-committed partnerships tend to use condoms more frequently than those in long-term or committed relationships. Basically, once relationships get serious, people are less likely to use condoms.

This post is NOT about associating judgment with anyone’s choice about using a condom, but rather, to de-stigmatize condom use in all relationships and partnership situations, whether they’re committed, casual, experimental, long-term, short-term, opposite sex, same-sex, etc.

Why might people stop using condoms in committed partnerships?

The reasoning behind discontinuing condom use in committed partnerships can be quite varied, and might include:

  •   Not having sexual acts that necessitate condoms (example: two partners who decide to stop having oral, anal or vaginal sex; or in another example: two females in a partnership who only have oral sex, would use dams rather than condoms; related to this example – keep in mind that many condoms can be easily converted to dental dams for use during oral sex!)
  •   Pregnancy risk is not a concern (e.g., pregnancy is not a factor in the relationship and/or some other form of contraception is used)
  •   Condoms imply fear or non-awareness of STI status of partner
  •   Condoms imply fear or non-awareness of partner monogamy
  •   Proposing to use condoms is a breach of partner intimacy in a committed relationship
  •   Proposing to use condoms is a way of communicating one’s own infidelity or positive STD status
  •   The notion that condoms decrease sexual pleasure
  •   Condoms are uncomfortable for partner(s) (e.g., allergy, improper size)

It’s true that both partners getting tested (and treated, if necessary) for STIs/HIV is a way of reducing risk of transmission within a partnership. In theory, if both partners are negative for STIs/HIV and are monogamous, then there’s little to no STI risk in that partnership. However, this idea is complicated by the fact that many STIs are not routinely tested for in exams, and that the frequency and timing of STI/HIV testing matters (one’s status may change with each new partner, for example). All of that said, in cases of total monogamy and recent mutual partner testing/treatment, the risk of STIs may be lower.

However, most of the reasons for condom discontinuation noted above involve larger issues about how we conceptualize condom use. They highlight serious social norms and beliefs (whether factual or not) around condoms, and touch on themes of intimacy, partner communication, fidelity and trust.

Why might people continue to use condoms?

Irrespective of what type of partnership they are in, people start and continue using condoms for a variety of reasons:

  •   To continually safeguard against STIs, including those that are not routinely tested for like herpes and HPV
  •   If another contraceptive method is used, to provide additional protection against pregnancy in addition to STIs (contraceptive options like the pill, patch and ring have a typical effectiveness of only 92%)
  •   To protect against STIs, if STI status is unknown for one or both partners
  •   To protect against STIs, if STI testing occurred outside of a testing window period*
  •   Many prefer using condoms as the only prevention method
  •   Many like condoms because it can delay the time to ejaculation, and therefore keep sex going for longer
  •   Many may prefer condoms because they can increase pleasure for their partner (ribbed condoms, studded condoms, etc.)
  •   Many may prefer condoms because it allows for quicker and easy clean up afterward.
  •   Wearing condoms no matter the nature of your relationship helps reinforce the HABIT. Behaviors are habits, and the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.

* Side note: Window period to a period of detection in which you can identify an STI on a test. For the rapid oral HIV test, the window period is around 3 months, so if there was an exposure within 3 months of taking the test, it may not show up on the test.

Let’s Make a Pact

Let’s get rid of the judgment and association of condom use just being for casual hook-ups or non-committed relationships! In fact, let’s open up the discussion even more: there is no one contraception or protective choice best for certain types of partnerships.

  •   Condoms are not just for those in non-committed relationships who are fearful of STI status or partner fidelity
  •   Hormonal contraception is not the only viable method of protection for committed partners
  •   The IUD is not just for women who are married or in serious relationships
  •   Hormonal contraception is not just for women who anticipate having multiple partnerships, nor does it make people more likely to engage in sexual activity

There are plenty of reasons why people choose different contraceptive and protection options during sex – and choice is a beautiful thing! The important point here is that thinking thoughtfully about options with a partner is key, as is challenging the norms we set around these choices.  Trained staff at UNC Student Wellness are available to talk through contraceptive options with you through our confidential C.H.A.T.S. feature (ONYEN required), or in appointments by calling 919-962-WELL. And, condoms and other safer sex supplies are available to UNC students through online request, through drop-in at Student Wellness, and through the condom dispensers installed on campus.

 

8 Ways Traveling Improves Your Wellness

From prtl.uhcl.edu

Last weekend, I had the fortunate opportunity of traveling ALONE to the wonderful city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Since this was my first time in a big city by myself, I took advantage of every unique opportunity to explore all the offerings of this city. So what does this have to do with health and wellness? A lot! When I started thinking about how amazing I felt after my trip, I realized that the reasons aligned with the 8 Dimensions of Wellness that we try to promote here at Student Wellness.

Cultural
When you travel—even to other places in the U.S.–you have the opportunity to completely immerse yourself in a new culture. While I was in Minneapolis, I looked at some wonderful local, national, global, and historic art at 3 different museums! I was so amazed at this city’s dedication and appreciation for the arts, especially their emphasis on spreading it to younger people. I stumbled across so many art programs and theatres specifically targeted to children, and I myself, participated in a program to get discounted tickets to watch “Othello” at the Guthrie Theatre. The cultural exploration didn’t stop there. I wandered over to Eat Street for an authentic ethnic food experience, learned about the large Somali community, and talked to several locals who taught me about their local culture and appreciation for the cold weather which manifests as massive winter festivals, dog sled races, and ice sculpting!

Emotional
Traveling is truly an escape. You get to set aside your daily responsibilities and have some “me time.” This could involve relaxation or exploration or both (relaxploration!). Regardless, you only have to deal with one schedule – your own. You get to do whatever you want, in your own time. This is a great stress relief! In addition to stress relief, some studies show that anticipating upcoming travel correlates to happiness and that time spent alone can “ward off depression in young people.”

I did a great deal of relaxploration. I had to accept that I was in a new city surrounded by people who call it home. I became very comfortable asking for help and suggestions of things to do. I found the perfect spot on a bridge over the Mississippi River and watched the river peacefully float beneath me. I walked around Lake Calhoun and the Lake of the Isles and sipped some coffee at JJ’s Coffee and Wine Bistro while gazing out at Lake Calhoun. During all of this relaxploration, I took some time to clear my head, people-watch, and relax. When I returned to North Carolina, I noticed that I felt less overwhelmed. In fact, one study found that “after only a day or two [from returning from vacation], 89% of respondents saw significant drops in stress.”

Environmental
I immersed myself in a completely new environment! I was so pleased at the built environment of Minneapolis. They’ve got a great understanding of how to integrate urbanism with nature. In fact, urban parks are sprinkled throughout the city! Their transportation network is efficient, affordable, and very connected. I was able to travel across large spaces for a very small price. I also learned that environmental racism exists in Minneapolis, as it does in Chapel Hill, and affects the Somali neighborhoods disproportionately.

Financial
I set myself a financial goal and monetary limit before I left; I told myself that I was going to try to spend the LEAST amount of money to do most everything I wanted to do. I succeeded! It’s very easy to be responsible and frugal while traveling as long as you set your own limits and stick to them. However, I want to acknowledge that the actual act of getting to your destination can be costly. Fortunately, our campus offers several means of funding transportation to our destinations such as:
UNC Global
Graduate and Professional Student Federation
The Office of Scholarships and Student Aid
The Center for Global Initiatives *added* (Thanks Priyanka!)

Intellectual
I made a “to-do” list before I left and constantly added and crossed off items as I was relaxploring. Others have noted that “having a ‘to-do’ list and crossing things off that list keeps you motivated and positive.” I definitely felt feelings of accomplishment and success! As a goal oriented person, this was a great way to work on my intellectual wellness while traveling. I also had the opportunity to visit the University of Minnesota and see if their graduate program was good fit for me.

Physical
I walked around….a lot. Although the public transportation was very efficient, I wanted to explore the city on foot too. While traveling, you can easily walk 7-10 miles in a day and not even realize it! These physical benefits last even after travel. According to one study, “travelers experience a 25% increase in performance on vigilance tests after returning from vacation.” (Vigilance tests refer to responding quickly to visual stimuli.) Traveling has great physical benefits before and after, but make sure you stay hydrated!

Social
I connected with some people – prospective students, locals, and other travelers. Traveling is great way to meet new people. Especially if you’re alone—traveling forces you to come out of your shell. So if you go to a coffee shop, a local bar/restaurant, or take a bus or train ride, chat with your neighbors. Social interaction is incredibly important. In fact, it is linked to improved cognitive function and decreased levels of stress hormones! Just like physical wellness, social wellness benefits last long after you return from travels. In fact, 53% of employed Americans reported that they feel more reconnected with family members after a vacation.

Spiritual
My spiritual wellness and emotional wellness are intertwined: if I feel emotionally well, then I feel spiritually well, and vice versa. My exploration in these two areas often involve nature, and I got my fill of nature while laying out in the sun and walking around Lake Calhoun. However, looking back, there are other elements of spirituality that I practiced during my travels. One of them is patience. Traveling involves a lot of waiting, and I had to practice staying calm if I was waiting for a bus and had no clue when it was arriving. I also had to be one with my ‘Go with the Flow’ self. The unexpected will happen, and you have to keep an open mind and be flexible to have room for changing plans. This may involve not being able to cross-off all of those items on your ‘to-do’ list…and being okay with that! Traveling allows you to “cultivate mindfulness,” especially whilst traveling alone. You have the opportunity to be present in the moment and focus your attention on taking in your new surroundings. Finally, traveling gives you the “time for reflection and introspection,” and I did a great bit of thinking about what I wanted the next three years of my life to look like.

All of this to say…. I had a wonderful trip. I knew I was having a great time, but it wasn’t until I went back and really thought about everything that I did that I saw how perfectly in tune they were with the wellness dimensions. I hope this encourages you to make some plans for Summer Vacation…get out there and travel!

Sources:
Los Angeles Times
http://articles.latimes.com/2013/dec/17/news/la-trb-travel-best-medicine-study-20131217

US Travel Association
http://www.ustravel.org/sites/default/files/page/2010/02/benefits_of_travel_08_pdf_87080.pdf

Huffington Post
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/17/traveling-alone-5-stress-relieving-benefits_n_3094527.html

India Times
http://www.indiatimes.com/lifestyle/travel/5-benefits-of-travelling-111919.html

North Carolina Environmental Justice Network
http://www.ncejn.org/

Workout Wednesday: Simple Tricks to a Happier You

health-kids-smilingJoy. Good vibes. Felicidad. Happiness. A large part of overall health is emotional well-being. When we are emotionally healthy, we are usually in a positive state, commonly known as being happy. But what is happiness? And how can we get more of this good stuff in our life?

HAPPINESS is hard to pin down. Martin Seligman, a leading researcher in positive psychology, breaks happiness down into three parts. These are pleasure, engagement, and meaning. Pleasure means giving our body what it wants – satisfying primal needs. Engagement means living the “good life” of family, friends, enjoyable work, and hobbies. And finally, meaning refers to the utilization of our talents to a greater purpose. According to Seligman, all three of the parts are important, but engagement and meaning make the biggest difference in how good we feel about our life.

Let’s add another layer. Happiness can describe how we feel right now, or how we feel generally over time. This is called the “experiencing self” versus the “remembering self.” They’re both important, and you can build your life in a way to augment both types.

Some people worry that wanting to be happy is a selfish pursuit. The opposite is actually true – research has revealed that happier people are more productive, sociable, and healthy. And in turn, this will work to increase the mood of those around you. By working to increase your own spirits, you’re spreading the good vibes to those around you as well.

Using the three categories from Seligman, we’ve created some simple, actionable things you can do to boost your mood right now.

Pleasure

  • Eat a piece of dark chocolate – it releases dopamine (a feel-good neurotransmitter)
  • Munch on some walnuts – omega-3s have been linked to lower depression rates
  • Introduce a calming fragrance to your room
  • Get in the sunlight when you first wake up
  • Make time to get outside in the sun during the day (but don’t overdo it!)
  • Crack a smile – research has shown that even these muscular changes can induce a positive mood

Engagement

  • Have a genuine conversation with a good friend
  • Look through old photos of loved ones
  • Clear away clutter in your space – even the illusion of order can clear the mind
  • Use “rapid appreciative thinking” to quickly brainstorm 5 things that you’re grateful for
  • Laugh out loud! Stream a hilarious video. Laughter releases dopamine.
  • Zone out occasionally – clear your mind and meditate
  • Do something you’ve been meaning to right now

Meaning

  • Spend 30 seconds and do a good deed for someone in need
  • Take 5 minutes to brighten a loved one’s day – flowers, a card… anything!
  • Spend money on experiences – not stuff

Take 2 minutes and do something from this list. You’ll thank yourself later!

Workout Wednesday blog posts are written by UNC Campus Recreation staff members. Each Wednesday we swap blog posts with the Tarheel Tone Up blog so that readers can view more diverse post topics that will benefit their health and wellness. Workout Wednesday blog posts can be found both here and on tarheeltoneup.com.

 

De-Clutter For Clarity

Whether it’s the tradition of spring cleaning, or the demands of our busy chaotic lives, I’ve noticed that the concept of “de-cluttering” seems to be a hot trend lately- websites ranging from Oprah to zen blogs to Buzzfeed are talking about ways to simplify our lives through the process of “de-cluttering.”  But why is “stuff” bad? And in the craziness of our daily lives, who has time to de-clutter?

Why is clutter a bad thing?

organizeDisorganization has been linked to increased stress and decreased productivity, not to mention greater risk of injury (because you are far more likely to trip and fall if your space is a mess!). On the flip side, simplifying your space can help save time and money, decrease germs, and promote focus.

So why is it so hard to get rid of things? 

Even though it seems clear that clutter impacts our emotional, physical, and environmental wellness, it’s still really hard to let go of things. Why is that? A recent study at Yale found that the same area of our brain that fires when we burn our tongues on hot coffee or stub our toes also lights up when we get rid of items. So it feels painful for us to give things up.   Another study showed that just holding or touching an item can cause emotional attachment. So of course it’s hard to throw that item away – you feel invested!

Now, of course this might not be true for everyone. There is a full continuum of “messy” to “neat” types of people out there, which means that tossing stuff is easier for some than others. Overall, though, tidying up your physical, social, and virtual spaces increases clarity in a world full of chaos.

Here are a few tips to get the de-clutter process kicked off:

  1. Focus on one thing at time. Take 10 minutes a day to focus on one de-clutter task: the pile of laundry on the floor, your desk, emptying your backpack. Don’t feel like you have to clean up your whole life all at once- baby steps!
  2. Monitor your social “clutter.” Clutter comes in many forms, including the things we put on our calendar. Be ruthless about saying no or postponing new commitments if your life feels too busy to manage.
  3. Tackle your virtual and mobile world. Take a minute at the end of the day to clear off your computer desktop. Control what phone notifications you receive (do you really want to know every time a celebrity tweets their post-workout snack?). When we are online, we are bombarded with a constant flow of information, so be proactive about setting filters and systems that work for you, not against you.
  4. Don’t worry about perfection. Striving towards simplicity won’t look the same for everyone. Figure out what your “perfect storm” of stuff is and set an attainable de-clutter goal. If you have a roommate, it’s good to talk through what works for them, too- your styles may be different.

decluttertips

Talking about sex… with a healthcare provider?

In the Healthy Heels blog, we’ve talked lots about communicating with partners about if and when one may engage in sexual activity, various methods for practicing safer sex,  talking with partners about STIs, and even the benefits of open communication around sexual health with your peers.

In honor of our “Let’s Talk About It, UNC” (LTAI – which we’re pronouncing, “la-tay UNC”) program this month, we ask: “what about talking to your healthcare provider about sex?”

Sexual health is a personal topic and oftentimes a very sensitive subject to talk about with anyone, so when you are asked sensitive questions in an exam room with a healthcare provider you’ve only met a few times, it can be a little uncomfortable.  This blog post is dedicated to de-awkwardizing those discussions: we’ll cover why it’s important to talk about sex and sexual health with a provider, expectations for some questions to anticipate, and questions you may want to ask.

Why talk about sex?

Sexual activity and sexuality are normal parts of our lives, and sexual health is an important part of overall health.  As such, it can be important for both the healthcare provider and patient to talk openly and candidly about sex and sexual health during clinical appointments or exams.

From a healthcare provider’s perspective, talking about sex during an appointment is a normal part of talking about one’s general comprehensive health behavior.  In most settings, a health care provider will ask about sexual activity routinely. IMPORTANT: This does not mean that talking about sexual behavior necessarily relates to a specific health concern or to you! Even if you have not previously engaged in sexual behaviors, or are currently abstinent for a variety of reasons, it may seem unrelated to talk about sex, but it’s important to remember that your sexual health as an integrated component of your overall health and wellness is related to other areas of health in your body and life.  Here are some examples:

  •   Some nutritional supplements or drugs that you might take for infections may have an interaction with prescription contraception.
  •   Some drugs may influence one’s sexual health – like anti-depressants influencing sexual libido.
  •   Some drugs or supplements may change body chemistry and increase risk for yeast or other infections, particularly when regular sexual activity is involved.

Healthcare providers may also ask about the type of sex you’re having and the birth sex and gender of sex partners in order to give personalized screening and prevention recommendations. For example, if someone is only having oral sex with females, they may recommend using dental dams, but if someone is having vaginal sex with males, they may recommend using condoms.

From a patient’s perspective, clinical appointments are an opportunity to voice health concerns and get reliable, personalized information on sexual health questions or concerns.

Questions to anticipate

Providers frequently ask about the following during a clinical appointment:

  • Sexual activity – whether or not you’ve had sex before
  • Number of sex partners in some period of time (currently, in the last year, etc.)
  • Types of sex (oral, anal, vaginal, other)
  • The gender of sex partners (if you have specified a sexual orientation, this question may still be asked because a person’s orientation may not always correlate with their sexual partners)
  • Use of contraceptives or barrier methods (hormonal birth control, condoms, or dental dams, for example)
  • Testing history for HIV/STIs
  • Appearance of symptoms such as rash, sores, fever, etc.
  • Alcohol or other drug use around sex
  • Pap history, including whether you have had an abnormal pap and subsequent tests
  • Pregnancy history (if you have been pregnant before and whether those pregnancies resulted in a live birth, miscarriage, c-section, or abortion)
  • Some providers will ask about sexual satisfaction too

It’s important to note that there are no right or wrong answers to any of the above, though it is important to be honest about your responses. Remember, everything you talk about with a provider is protected information.

Things to bring up or ask about

A provider may ask you lots of questions, but it’s important that you feel comfortable speaking up about sexual health during appointments as well! Even if a health care provider doesn’t ask questions about sexual health, you should feel free to bring up any of the following:

  • Any changes since your last appointment (ex: appearance of symptoms, changes in lubrication or sensation)
  • Problems or challenges using contraceptives or barrier methods (side effects, itching or burning with condoms, etc.)
  • Results of any previous tests
  • HIV/STI testing recommendations, if not already offered by the provider
  • Any questions you may have about HIV/STI testing or prevention
  • Concerns you have about any prescriptions suggested by your doctor (ex: negative experiences in the past, fear of side effects). If something affects your willingness or ability to start or complete a treatment, speak up!

Didn’t get all the answers to your questions? If you have questions about sexual health, you can always ask a trained sexual health educator at Student Wellness by using our confidential online C.H.A.T.S feature, or by emailing sexualwellness@unc.edu. You can also make an appointment to talk to staff in Student Wellness in a face to face  setting by calling 919-962-WELL.