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mental health


Reducing isolation among university students


THE University of Leeds has a large international student population. Many students attend the Business School which sits on the outskirts of campus, making it more difficult for these students to engage with on- campus activities that take place at the university’s fitness, sport, and wellbeing complex the Edge. Every year, the Sport and Physical Activity


department conducts a Balancing Life Survey to identify the activity levels of staff and students, looking at the areas of the campus where there is more opportunity to get involved. Engaging international students, especially through activities that support their experience of British culture, was identified as a key area of focus. The survey identified the need to build networks and increase integration of students from different cultural backgrounds. It also


revealed that there are thousands of students looking to learn new languages and wanting opportunities to incorporate language learning into real-life settings. Working with the International Office, the


Sport and Physical Activity service decided to undertake a pilot to leverage the group exercise studio The Edge. In partnership with Les Mills, the university


launched a timetable of Les Mills Virtual classes in Mandarin over Christmas 2017. With marketing and promotional support led by the International Office, the team hoped the Mandarin content could become a permanent fixture on the timetable. The Mandarin virtual classes attracted 155


participants across the two-week festive period. “Naturally, we see a dip in group exercise over the Christmas period, so to get the volume


of people we did was very impressive,” said James Buckley, physical activity, health and wellbeing manager at the University of Leeds The same programme was replicated over


Easter 2018 and results were even more positive with 244 participants taking part in the classes. In fact, the numbers for virtual Mandarin content stood-up favourably against other content in English. One of the most impressive parts of the


programme was how well it highlighted the power of group exercise in reducing isolation and the classes helped make students feel more integrated into the Edge community. “It is very common for international students


to remain on campus out of term time. Various departments work collaboratively to provide a programme of activity to reduce feelings of isolation and foster opportunities to integrate international with UK students, both during term time and throughout holiday breaks. The Les Mills group exercise classes was a perfect example of this working to full effect.” said Buckley. “With more students taking part in Les


Mills virtual classes in Mandarin, we have seen the positive effect group exercise can have on integrating these classes into the language learning process, building new social groups and looking after wellbeing all at the same time.” The university is looking to add Les Mills


Virtual programming in additional languages, expanding the classes to other on-campus venues. The university opens an Innovation Centre


this year, which will offer a virtual exercise studio. The university now boasts 85 per cent


occupancy rate across 245 classes per week. www.lesmills.com/uk


32 pactfacilities.co.uk


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