USI adopted a new Physical Health Strategy at its Congress in 2012.  This text represents the strategy as passed by USI Congress.

USI Physical Health Strategy

Adopted by USI Congress 2012


1) Why is it important to promote physical activity?

1.1)        How Active are young people?

1.2)        Benefits of Exercise.

1.3)        How to avoid injury with physical activity

1.4)        Cost benefits of physical activity.

1.5)        A positive outlook

1.6)        Gender

        1.6.1)   What benefits do young women think physical activity will give them?


 2) Actions & Recommendations

2.1)   Link between physical activity & mental health.

2.2)   Stress management.

2.3)   Sleep and mental/physical health

2.4)   Diet and mental/physical health

2.4.1)                   Healthy eating on a budget

2.5)   Weight and mental health

2.6)   Fluid intake and mental health

2.7)   Alcohol and mental health

2.8)   Role of the Welfare Officer & how to best communicate Mental & Physical Health.

2.8.1)                   Diet and Nutrition

2.8.2)                   Watch out for Eating Disorders

2.8.3)                   Physical activity

2.9)   Physical Health Directory & Support Services


3)                Suggested CO Innovations.

3.1)   Promote and provide non-competitive sporting and physical activities within Student unions.

3.2)   Promotion of locally sourced, reasonably priced nutritious food

3.3)   Provide classes for students to become physically active and present an opportunity for students to be educated in how to eat healthier.

 Union of Students in Ireland – Physical Health Strategy.

All third level institutions should be encouraged to adopt the concept that they should be a ‘health promoting college’. Colleges could actively address issues concerning healthy eating, drinking behaviour and the need to live an active lifestyle. If in this way we can ensure young people of college going age live in a positive health culture, we will go a long way towards ensuring that the next generation is a healthy one. This will help to build upon the knowledge currently attained through the Social, Personal and Health Education by students, starting at junior infants through to third year in secondary school. Whilst there are many activities under way in many third level institutions, there is a need to determine effective and co-ordinated approaches throughout all third level institutions.

Why is it important to promote physical activity?

The “Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health” (World Health Organization, 2010) highlights the importance of physical activity in relation to the prevention of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, obesity, bone health, breast and colon cancer and depression. In addition, increased time spent in sedentary activities e.g. television viewing and computer use, are well known risk factors in the development of obesity.

The national physical activity guidelines for adults (18-65  years) is at least 30 minutes a day of moderate activity on 5 days a week (or 150 minutes a week) (Department of Health and Children, Health Service Executive, 2009). Moderate intensity activity should make the individual breathe more heavily than usual, and feel warm. The level of activity at which these feelings occur will vary from person to person. Some who are currently sedentary could achieve such feelings from activities like brisk walking; others may achieve them by energetic dancing. As a rough guide, an individual should be able to hold a conversation while being moderately active. Working above this level would be considered vigorous activity.

Every adult should be active. Some physical activity is better than none, more is better than some, and any amount of physical activity gains some health benefits.

Shorter bouts of activity can be counted towards the guidelines. These bouts should last for at least 10 minutes. Add activities which increase muscular strength and endurance on 2–3 days per week.

1.1) How Active are young people?

Studies have shown that few Irish people are taking part in regular physical activity  (Morgan K, 2008) (Kelleher, 2003)  (Friel, 1999)with at least 59% of adults not meeting the recommendations. Young people need to be educated that regular physical exercise is essential for a longer and healthier life. It needs to be noted that due to the technological advances, young people’s lives become more inactive. In the recent National Adult Nutrition Survey (Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance, 2011), approximately 18 hours of television were watched a week with 27% reporting watching more than 25 hours per week; at the expense of recreational pursuits. The more time spent in front of a screen, the greater likelihood of having a higher body mass index, therefore potentially overweight or obesity.


1.2) Benefits of Exercise.

Many young people think about health in relation to illness however health is better defined as physical, mental and social well being (Department of Health and Children, 2000) Physical activity benefits every aspect of your health. The health benefits are principally linked to the total amount of energy expended, the type of activity performed is of less significance (Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance, 2011).

US studies show that regular physical activity reduces many health risks for everyone – children, adolescents, adults, people with disabilities and older adults, across all ethnic groups (Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, 2008). The message that needs to be communicated is the more active you are, the more often and the longer you are active reduces your chances of getting a chronic disease and improves your overall quality of life.

Previous research on sport and recreational exercise has shown that the greatest difference in health status arises between those who do at least some activity and those who do none  (Lunn, 2009). Thus, sedentarism may be a particular cause for concern from a public health perspective (Lunn, 2011).

It must be noted that obesity is a major public health concern in Ireland. The less exercise you do, the more you are risk of being overweight. The 2011 National Adult Nutrition Survey shows that 24% of Irish adults are obese and 37% overweight, compared to 18% obese and 39% overweight in 2001 (Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance, 2001). This shows that there has been a  population weight shift in the upper direction and we need to do something about it. In 2001 42% of our population were of normal weight, this has dropped to 39% in 2011.

To achieve or maintain a healthy weight we need to take regular exercise and eat a healthy diet. This ensures a balance between the energy you get from food and the energy you use.  When doing exercise its not all about losing weight. Obese people who eat well and exercise live just as long as their slimmer counterparts and are less likely to die from heart disease (Kuk, 2011)

Below is a summary of the health benefits of physical activity can have on an individual.


Physical Benefits Psychological Benefits
– Boost energy levels – Being more active and feeling strong will allow you to be more self confident and sure of yourself.
– Feel and look better – Promotes mental well being
– Improves ability to fall asleep and sleep well – Improves focus and performance in your college work.
– Reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and high blood pressure – Improves your mood and helps relaxation.
– Helps counteract obesity – Helps prevent and reduce depression, stress and anxiety.
Effective in helping weight management – Helps boost self-esteem e.g. achievement of goals or an improvement in physical appearance.


1.3) How to avoid injury with physical activity

The benefits of physical activity far outweigh the possible risks. Few people are likely to injure themselves taking part in moderate intensity activities for the duration recommended in the guidelines.

Evidence shows that only one injury occurs for every 1000 hours of walking activity, and fewer than four injuries occur for every 1000 hours of running. The most common injuries are minor, short-lived musculo-skeletal ones, such as straining a muscle or tendon.

You can reduce the possible risks by:

•increasing the level of physical activity gradually over a period of time

•wearing suitable clothes and footwear

•using appropriate equipment and protective equipment; and

•being active in safe places

(Department of Health and Children, Health Service Executive, 2009)

1.4) Cost benefits of physical activity.

If everyone, including young people were to exercise regularly the healthcare system would benefit from reduce costs.  It has been estimated that if Australian people became more active for just 30 minutes per day, it could save $1.5 billion (€815 million) a year in costs linked to CHD, stroke, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, colon cancer, depression and falls. In comparison, the level of inactivity in Ireland is even higher than in Australia, so the possible cost benefits of increased activity may be even greater (Medibank Private, 2007). In Ireland, the Nutrition and Health Foundation estimated that the financial cost of physical inactivity alone for 2011, (irrespective of the number of chronic disease cases it can help reduce) is approximately €1.6billion (extrapolation of UK data,  (Department of Health, 2004)).

Two studies calculated physical inactivity can cost about  €150-300 per person each year  (Department of Health and Children, Health Service Executive, 2009). Increasing current levels of physical activity could significantly reduce the cost to society, but even maintaining them can result in savings (Cavill N, 2006). In human terms, up to 23% of cases of coronary heart disease, 17% of colon cancer, 15% of diabetes, 13% of strokes and 11% of breast cancer can be reduced through being physically active (WHO, 2002).  If we even only consider coronary heart disease; physical inactivity can result in up to almost a quarter of cases. In the Irish context, over 1/3 (35%) of deaths (9,980) are related to diseases of the circulatory system which includes heart disease and stroke (Central Statistics Office, 2006).


1.5) A positive outlook

What is positive is that 2009 (Lunn, 2011) has found increases in the levels of physical activity in 2009, a recovery from 2008 which was badly affected by the onset of recession. The proportion of adults who actively participated in sport rose significantly between 2008 and 2009, from 30.8% to 33.5%. The proportion who walked regularly also went up, from 57.5% to 60.5%.

Overall swimming remained the most popular activity (7.2%) ahead of personal exercise (5.8%) and soccer (5.6%). Soccer (10.7%) and golf (8.1%) were the most popular activities for men, while swimming (8.5%) and personal exercise (7.1%) were most popular among women.

Walking and cycling as a mode of transport contribute substantially to physical activity, with 45.7% and 11.2% of adults doing each regularly. Students, city dwellers, single people and younger people are particularly likely to walk and cycle for transport, with women more inclined to walk than men, and men more likely to cycle than women.


1. 6) Gender

Research conducted by Sport England, Economic and Social Research Institute and the Irish Sports Council has shown that men and women engage in physical activity for different reasons and therefore the activities they engage in are significantly different.

While men’s sporting activities consist of a mixture of team and individual activities, women’s participation is dominated by personal exercise and  swimming, with team sports accounting for only a small proportion of activity (Irish Sports Monitor Report 2009)

Walking for transport is more common among women in every age category, an effect that is not diminished by controlling for other characteristics. Young women are especially likely to walk for transport. Although the gender gap is widest in the youngest age category (16-25), it does not simply narrow with age, but widens again in middle-age.

The gender pattern is the opposite to that for walking, with men being much more likely to cycle. Lunn, 2009 found that among men there has been a considerable increase in cycling for sport or leisure over recent decades, in line with increases in many other individual sporting activities, but that there was a decrease among women. It is possible that women may be more affected by safety concerns. Similarly the gender gap narrows in middle-age then widens again.

Given the contribution walking and cycling for transport make to overall physical activity, a question of clear importance is the relationship between these activities and playing sport and recreational walking. One point to note is the very low level of sedentarism (7.7%) among young women (16 – 25 years). Although concern has been expressed at the rate of drop-out from sport and recreational exercise by adolescent and young women, they are nevertheless the demographic group with the lowest level of sedentarism. This is due to the combination of high participation in sport and exercise (relative to older categories, but not relative to young men) and a relatively high degree of walking, especially for transport. It is worth stressing that socio-economic status has a much weaker association with walking and cycling for transport than with playing sport.

While young women recognise the health benefits of moderate activity, they appear to associate fitness benefits with strenuous structured activity. There may be a difference in perception about activities which are healthy and activities which make you fitter. The need to be active on health grounds may not be a powerful motivator for young women, especially as they feel well and healthy, but may also feel unfit. Young women appear to perceive being fit as being able to do daily activities without getting out of breath. Being healthy is associated with an absence of illness or disease. Recent research suggests that whilst young women, on the one hand, feel that you can be healthy without being fit, on the other hand they feel you can be fit without being healthy (Health Education Authority, 1997). An example of this may be an exercising young women with a good body shape who eats a high fat diet and smokes.

The promotion of physical activity among young women aged 16-24 years presents particular challenges. It encompasses an extremely diverse group of people at different stages of life and with very varied circumstances. Promoting physical activity to reduce risk of coronary heart disease in later years would be an inappropriate strategy for a young woman interested in the more immediate benefits of physical activity, such as feeling and looking good, emphasising the short term benefits of activity is likely to be more successful (Health Education Authority, 1997).

1.6.1) What benefits do young women think physical activity will give them?

Young women are more likely to talk about immediate benefits to themselves, reflecting their personal physical and psychological feelings of being active. These benefits include:

  • weight loss
  • looking good
  • feeling good afterwards
  • feeling more relaxed
  • feeling fitter
  • having more energy
  • enjoyment and achievement
  • feeling more confident
  • being with friends

Being active with others, also contributes to their enjoyment in taking part. Being seen as part of the group increases the sense of belonging. Chances to mix and meet with others and have fun are all important. This latter point may reflect the changing social circumstances that young women experience, for example starting further education, moving away from home (Health Education Authority, 1998).

Young women are likely to recognise that being active gives them the chance to feel better physically and mentally, during and after participation. The most common perceived benefit for being active is weight loss or weight control. This desire appears strongly linked to a goal of improving appearance and body shape (Health Education Authority, 1998).


2) Actions & Recommendations

2.1) Link between physical activity & mental health.

 USI acknowledges the connection between being physically active and improved mental health.  Welfare officers can benefit their students by being more aware of this and by actively working to raise awareness among the student body.

Exercise and regular physical activity has numerous benefits beyond those commonly associated with it such as reducing anxiety and reducing chronic fatigue for an example.  Experts believe that exercise releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good. Regular exercise can also boost your self-esteem and help you concentrate, sleep, look and feel better (Mental Health Foundation, 2011).

Depression is a common condition that will affect a large proportion of the population with 20% suffering a significant episode during their lifetime (Kessler, 2009)). It’s important to note that studies have shown that engaging in prescribed structured exercise significantly reduces levels of depressive symptoms (Lawlor, 2001) and generalised anxiety disorders particularly irritability, anxiety, low vigor and pain (Herring, 2011).

It’s important that Students Union promote physical exercise among their student body. USI would recommend CO’s to make links with their Student Health Centers in an effort to establish a “health and exercise referral programme” like that which is done in UCD.

Taking part in physical activities offers many opportunities. It’s a great way to meet people. And it can be a chance to give oneself a well-deserved break from the hustle and bustle of daily life – to find some quiet time.

Leading an active life can help raise one’s self-worth and improve  confidence. It can help one feel valued – and value yourself.  Exercise and physical activity can provide something worthwhile in ones life. Something that one really enjoy, that gives one a goal to aim for and a sense of purpose.

An active lifestyle doesn’t necessarily mean doing a sporty exercise, or limiting to just one activity. A walk, doing housework and gardening are all physical activities (Mental Health Foundation, 2011).

Remember, improvements won’t be seen every day. Making the regular commitment to doing physical activity is an achievement in itself (Mental Health Foundation, 2011).

2.2) Stress management.

Students commonly suffer from stress and anxiety during their time in college. Their lifestyle can become increasingly sedentary due to academic workload. This in turn can lead to more stressful eating habits and sleep patterns.

  • USI recognises the necessity for students to put in place stress management techniques prior to times of high stress.
  • Welfare officers should create guidelines for student Unions to maintain physical activities on campus during times of high stress and should emphasis greater capacity to work and study when maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
  • USI should work to help CO’s run events on stress management and procure materials on the same ahead of exam/assessment times. This should take into account the services available locally.
  • Further to this USI should provide a framework within which CO’s can work to develop working groups for physical health on each campus, providing the scope for each campus to develop in a way that suits them.

Better diet and physical activity plan an important role in stress management and having healthy sleep patterns,

2.3) Sleep and mental/physical health

Sleep problems can affect every aspect of our lives – our relationships, our mood, our ability to concentrate, function and complete day to day tasks. These factors can have a major impact on our health and wellbeing.

It has been shown that after controlling for age, BMI, health status, smoking status, and depression, those that meet the physical activity recommendations were much less like to often feel overly sleepy during the day compared to those not meeting guidelines. Similar results were also found for having leg cramps while sleeping and having difficulty concentrating when tired. Those who were active also fell asleep more quickly (Loprinzi, In press)

2.4) Diet and mental/physical health

Most people are aware that a healthy diet is important to reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other physical health problems.  Recent evidence also suggests that good nutrition may be just as important for our mental health and that a number of mental health conditions may be influenced by dietary factors.  There is not enough evidence to draw any firm conclusions yet about the effects of diet on mental health, but the evidence does suggest that a healthy diet protects our mental health (Mental Health Foundation, 2011).

2.4.1) Healthy eating on a budget

A healthy diet can be more expensive. Fish, fruit and vegetables can be particularly pricey. However, by reducing consumption of treat foods,  takeaways and alcohol, you can save money to buy healthier foods.

The Nutrition and Health Foundation top tips for students and healthy eating on a budget:

1. Always have a breakfast – it is a valuable source of nutrients and people who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight. Having a breakfast will also give you the energy needed for your morning lectures. Examples of which are high fibre varieties of cereals and breads, a glass of fruit juice, include lots of fruit with bread/cereal and use low fat milks for your cereal or cup of tea/coffee.

2. Try to eat 3 varied meals a day – fuelling your body with a variety of nutrients will give you plenty of energy to stay awake in class, study for exams and spend time with friends. Use the food pyramid for guidance and ideas.

3. Bring a packed lunch with you to college as this saves you money.

4. Keep treats as treats – it is all too easy to eat more treat foods than we should. This is because they are not as filling as more nutritious foods of similar energy content.

5. Size matters – bigger portions contain more calories, so by cutting the portion size, we can lose weight or maintain body weight.

6. Plan for days when you are too tired to cook – when cooking simply prepare more than you need and you can freeze the extra into individual portions for other days. That way you can have something tasty and pre-cooked to hand, defrost thoroughly before reheating.

7. Bulk buying is cheaper in the end, so when shopping buy the larger packs where you can and break into individual portions and freeze where feasible.

8. Cook with/eat foods that are in season as they are cheaper and avail of in store promotions e.g. buy one get one free – stock up where you can.

9. Limit your alcohol consumption – if you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation, preferably with meals and have some alcohol free days. Heavy or binge drinking (five or more standard drinks on one occasion), especially on a regular basis, can lead to serious health problems.

(Nutrition and Health Foundation, 2008)

2.5) Weight and mental health

Depression affects different people in different ways. Some people lose interest in food or can’t motivate themselves to shop and cook, so lose weight. Others find they want to eat more and gain weight when they are unhappy. Some medications can also increase or decrease your appetite – if you are concerned that the medication you are taking has made your weight problems worse, speak to your doctor.

Both excessive weight loss or weight gain can make your mood worse and should be avoided. Weight loss and lack of good nutrition will deprive the brain of glucose and the other nutrients that control mood – you may need the advice of a dietitian to help you overcome this problem.

Putting on weight unintentionally or feeling out of control of your eating can increase your depression and can lead to yo-yo dieting, which leaves you further out of control. If you are overweight, follow the advice on healthy eating but be extra careful to limit your fat and sugar intake (reduce your intake of fries, pies, cakes, puddings, sweets, chocolate or sweet drinks), use less fat in cooking, reduce your alcohol consumption, and increase your exercise levels.

2.6) Fluid intake and mental health

Not drinking enough fluid has significant implications for mental health. The early effects of even mild dehydration can affect our feelings and behaviour.

An adult loses approximately 2.5 litres of water daily through the lungs as water vapour, through the skin as perspiration and through the kidneys as urine. If you don’t drink enough fluids to replace this loss then you will get symptoms of dehydration, including irritability, loss of concentration and reduced mental functioning.

Coffee, colas, some energy drinks and tea all contain caffeine, which some people use to boost energy levels. However, in large quantities caffeine can potentially increase blood pressure, anxiety, depressive symptoms and sleep problems in some people.

Caffeine, in strong doses can have a diuretic effect (encouraging the body to lose water)and therefore can lead to dehydration. For this reason you should not rely solely on caffeine-based fluids for hydration.

If you do take drinks with caffeine in them, try to limit yourself to just 3–4 cups per day and drink other fluids such as water, fruit juice and non-stimulant herbal teas at other times. Chocolate also contains caffeine and should be limited to an occasional treat.

2.7) Alcohol and mental health

When the liver processes the alcohol, your body uses thiamin, zinc and other nutrients and this can deplete your reserves, especially if your diet is poor. Thiamin and other vitamin deficiencies are common in heavy drinkers and can cause low mood, irritability and/or aggressive behaviour, as well as more serious and long-term mental health problems.

Because the body uses important nutrients to process alcohol, people who experience depression should consider avoiding alcohol until they have recovered. Even then, because of alcohol’s depressant effects, they should consider drinking only small amounts – no more than once a week.

If you do want to drink alcohol, try not to exceed the recommended safe limits – two units a day for women and three units for men.

1 unit = 1 small glass wine (8 % ABV)

½ pint beer or lager (3.5 % ABV)

1 single measure spirits (40 % ABV)

1 small glass sherry or port (20 % ABV)


NB. % ABV is the strength of the alcoholic content. If the % ABV is higher than the examples listed above, then the drink contains more units of alcohol.

2.8) Role of the Welfare Officer & how to best communicate Mental & Physical Health.

2.8.1) Diet and Nutrition

Many students who have financial troubles will more often than not have a poor quality of diet as healthy eating is seen as expensive and difficult. As they have less money, the option of cheap ready meals is more appealing and they can direct funds elsewhere. It must be noted as well that many students’ diets have been shown to be low in vitamin C, Calcium, Iron, Zinc and dietary fiber. These all have physical health implications that are both short term and long term (Anding, 2000). Supplements are often used as a substitute; however can often be taken in a dangerous manner due to misinformation or a lack of understanding of nutrition (Johnston, 1998).

  • Welfare Officers should highlight the benefits of a healthy, balanced and nutritious diet and should work to provide access to information on this for their students.
  • USI Welfare should organize training to allow welfare officers to identify indicators of eating disorder but all information should come from BodyWhys.
  • Healthy eating needs to be promoted as something positive that can be enjoyed in the context of a college lifestyle without a financial strain. Information should be given to students to explain the benefits of a healthy balanced diet during exams and assessments.

Please refer to the information presented in section 2.4 on diet and mental/physical health for further information.

2.8.2) Watch out for Eating Disorders

The term ‘eating disorder’ refers to a complex, potentially life-threatening condition, characterised by severe disturbances in eating behaviours. Eating disorders do not start out as a conscious choice and are not a wilful form of ‘attention seeking’. Eating disorders can be seen as a way of coping with emotional distress, or as a symptom of underlying issues.

For the person with an eating disorder, controlling food and the body is their way of relieving distress and achieving some degree of control over their life. Their world feels like an unsafe place, and, for many complex reasons, an eating disorder provides them with a sense of safety.

Once trapped within the eating disorder, people often feel they need to maintain it in order to survive. They don’t know who they are or how they could cope without it. (Bodywhys, 2008)

  • Eating disorders are not primarily about food
  • People can and do recover
  • Eating disorders can affect anyone

Eating disorders are characterised by a variety of disordered eating behaviours such as:

  • Self-starvation – by fasting and/or food restriction
  • Purging – by self-induced vomiting, over-exercising, or laxative abuse
  • Bingeing – by consuming quantities of food beyond what the body needs to satisfy hunger

An eating disorder can be very destructive, both physically and emotionally, and people can get trapped into the destructive cycle of the eating disorder without knowing how to cope with it. An eating disorder is not just about food and weight, but also about a person’s sense of who they are. (Bodywhys, 2008)

Treatment of an eating disorder will require attention to both the physical and the psychological/emotional aspects of the person. Treatment must always include respect for and sensitivity for the overall well-being of the person.

The distress of a person experiencing an eating disorder, whether or not it is acknowledged, may have a considerable impact on family and friends.

The main eating disorders

Although the term ‘eating disorder’ is applied to a wide range of disordered eating behaviours, there are three main classifications: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder. (Bodywhys, 2008)

Anorexia Nervosa

  • A person will make determined efforts to attain and maintain a body weight lower than the normal body weight for their age, sex and height
  • They will be preoccupied with thoughts of food and the need to lose weight
  • They may exercise excessively and may engage in purging behaviours.

Bulimia Nervosa

  • A person will make determined efforts to purge themselves of any food eaten, sometimes following a binge, and often following ‘normal’ food intake.
  • They will engage in high-risk behaviours that can include fasting, excessive exercising, self-induced vomiting, and/or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics or other medications
  • They may maintain a body weight within the normal range of their age, sex and height. As a result, bulimia is often less obvious than anorexia and can go unnoticed for longer.

Binge Eating Disorder

  • A person will engage in repeated episodes of bingeing without purging
  • They will likely gain considerable amounts of weight over time
  • They find themselves trapped in a cycle of dieting, bingeing, self-recrimination and self-loathing.

Just because somebody doesn’t fit in absolutely with one particular category doesn’t mean they don’t have an eating disorder. A large number of people with eating disorders don’t fit strictly into one category but fluctuate between the three. (Bodywhys, 2008)

People experiencing an eating disorder may

  • have dieted
  • have low self-esteem– though this may not be obvious, as people who develop eating disorders are often ‘high achievers’
  • show a marked over-concern with body shape, weight and size, and an obsession with food
  • see thinness as a magical solution to problems, while weight gain is feared
  • have difficulty identifying and expressing their real needs
  • view their body as larger than it actually is (distorted body image)
  • have problems around control
  • find it hard to talk about their feelings and to deal with conflict
  • be depressed and may become isolated
  • experience mood swings

Recovery begins with

  • a will to change
  • an acknowledgement that the eating disorder is a problem
  • working to build up a strong sense of self and a new, healthy way of coping that does not need the eating disorder to feel safe

Recovery requires working on underlying issues, building self-esteem, and learning to manage and express feelings, as well as addressing the physical and nutritional aspects of the disorder.

Recovery takes great courage and commitment. Much sensitivity, compassion, respect, understanding and patience will be needed by those around them (family, friends, G.P., and other members of the treatment team) if a person is to be successfully encouraged and supported on their journey towards recovery. (Bodywhys, 2008)

2.8.3) Physical activity

A person becoming more physically active does have benefits for their personal health and economy. The Student Union Welfare officer can play an important role by encouraging and supporting young people in third level college’s to be active every day in as many ways as they can as well as maintain a healthy level of physical activity as well as equipping students with the skills and knowledge necessary to live a full and happy life.

When promoting physical activity it is important they maintain all key messages as part of all your communication on the topic.  The key things that need to be promoted would be

Stress the benefits of physical activity;

  • The more exercise they do, the more benefits they’ll get.
  • Inform students that doing any sort of activity is better than doing nothing.
  • Try and personalize the benefits of regular physical activity.
  • Pick an activity that a person would enjoy

Promote self belief;

  • Its important to motivate people to be active, they need to develop a self-belief that they can do it.  To instill this attitude to young people, get them to start off slowly and set goals to increase their chance of success.

Promote social support;

  • Inform students that it’s more fun to walk, cycle or run with a friend rather than alone.
  • If your attempting people to change their behavior they wont do it by them selves. Encourage them to get their friends to sign up and to engage their family within their physical activities will allow them to be more committed.


  • Suggest ways to fit physical activity into daily life


A welfare officer can promote physical activities that can be fun and interactive for students. Simple things such as

  • Walk to the bus or train
  • Cycle to college
  • Take the stairs instead of the escalator or lift
  • Organize a game of football, hockey or tennis with friends.
  • Walk the pet
  • Play active computer games e.g. Wii Fit

All of the above suggestions can be used to increase student’s physical activity. Of course many CO welfare officers will have many more ideas themselves but the important the message to communicate here is that physical activity can fit into everyone’s life.

Watch out for exercise disorder (over exercising)

Exercise may seem a healthy activity but it is used by some people with an exercise disorder in an obsessive way to control their weight. A person suppresses the signals of the body’s limit indicating overwork. While moderate amounts of exercise can reduce depression, depression also can be product of over-training. (Iceberg, 2009)

People who continue to over-exercise in spite of medical and/or other consequences feel as if they can’t stop and that participating in their activity is no longer an option to the point of damage or danger to their lives.

Activity disorders, like eating disorders, are expressions of and defenses against feelings and emotions and are used to soothe, organize, and maintain self-esteem. Individuals with the eating disorders (anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa) and those with activity disorders are similar to one another in many respects. Both groups attempt to control the body through exercise and/or diet and are overly conscious of input versus output equations. They are extremely committed individuals and pride themselves on putting mind over matter, valuing self-discipline, self-sacrifice, and the ability to persevere. (Iceberg, 2009) (, 2011)

They are generally hard-working, task-oriented, high-achieving individuals who have a tendency to be dissatisfied with themselves as if nothing is ever good enough. The emotional investment these individuals place on exercise and/or diet becomes more intense and significant than work, family, relationships, and, ironically, even health. Those with activity disorders lose control over exercise just as those with an eating disorder lose control over eating and dieting, and both experience withdrawal when prevented from engaging in their behaviours.

Ways to Recognise and Obsession with Exercise (Iceberg, 2009) (, 2011)


  • Do I pass up social activities and spending time with my family and friends rather than miss workout?
  • Do I schedule my day around my exercise rather than my exercise around me schedule?
  • Is exercise used as a means to burn calories and lose weight rather than to have fun, enjoy body movements and master or maintain physical and emotional health?
  • Is exercising a way to purge unwanted thoughts and avoid unpleasant feelings rather than express them?
  • If I miss my workout, do I feel anxious, guilty, angry or fat?
  • Do I determine how much exercise I do in terms of how much food I have eaten?
  • If I miss workout do I deny myself food?
  • Do I ignore injury, fatigue and pain?
  • Is body size always on my mind?

(Healthy Place staff member, 2000)

How do I stop over-exercising?

■If you’re worried that your exercise routine is unhealthy, then talk to a doctor or qualified trainer about planning a safe and healthy exercise routine for you.

■Think about the reasons you over-exercise and talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling.

■Make sure you have rest days in your exercise routine.

■Try to add variety into what you’re doing- if you work very hard one day, then go for a relaxing walk the next day or exercise for less time.

■Don’t push your body too far. If it’s hurting or tired you should stop exercising- otherwise you risk injuring yourself or making yourself sick.

■If you worry about your body image or have an eating disorder, talk to someone. Contact Bodywhys at or by calling 1890 200 444.

(, 2011)

2.9) Physical Health Directory & Support Services

A Welfare Officer isn’t alone when wanting to encourage student to do more physical activities. Below are some supports and training organisations that can help a welfare officer in their college to promote physical activity.

Health promotion department – A local HSE health promotion department provides information and training on promoting health and well-being including physical activity. Visit or contact HSE info-line on 1850 24 1850 for details of your local health promotion department.


Local sports partnerships – these are initiatives of Irish Sports Council. They promote opportunities for physical and sport for all at local level. Visit for details of your local sport partnerships.

Nutrition and Health Foundation – a multi-stakeholder organisation whose mission is to communicate evidence based information on nutrition, health and physical activity to encourage an improved and healthier society in Ireland.

Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute – The Irish Nutrition & Dietetic Institute (INDI) is the national organisation for clinical nutritionists/dietitians in Ireland.

Irish Heart Foundation – is the national heart charity that runs campaigns on physical activity and provide information on being active for heart health. Slí na Sláinte walking routes located throughout the country are an initiative of the Irish Heart Foundation. Check out for more information.


National governing bodies of sports – have training programmes for coaches and volunteers. Some of the national bodies have also adapted programmes for people with disabilities. As well as the mainstream sports there are also specific sports bodies such as Cerebral palsy Sport Ireland, Irish Blind Sports, Irish Wheelchair association Sport, Irish Deaf Sports Association, Special Olympics and the Paralympic Council of Ireland. For more information visit


The CARA Adapted Physical Activity Centre – at the institute of Technology in Tarlee, Co.Kerry, facilities, co-ordinates and advocates for the inclusion of people with disabilities in physical activity, sport and physical education. For more information visit

USI Welfare Officer would develop a relationship between USI & College and University Sports Association of Ireland (CUSAI) with the aim of running joint initiatives during the academic calendar to promote physical health within third level institutions.

3)                Suggested CO Innovations.

3.1) Promote and provide non-competitive sporting and physical activities within Student unions.


  • Ensure there is access to non-competitive sport within the college, or if this cannot be achieved, try to encourage links with local  non-competitive sports groups like traditional martial arts, rock climbing, jogging, cycling clubs, hiking/hills walking groups etc.
  • Encourage competitive sports clubs to run non-competitive elements.
  • Ensure there are competitive sports available either to both genders or ideally mixed as many competitive sports are gendered and it can leave the other group excluded.
  • Strive to provide physical activities during exam time and assessments by using off campus organisations to provide it.
  • Local Student Unions should work with their respective Sports and Recreation departments who not only have the skills and expertise in the area but also experience and access to resources and facilities.

3.2) Promotion of locally sourced, reasonably priced nutritious food 

  • Student Unions should providing information on local farmers markets, organic food stores, butchers, fishmongers and green grocers, as well as trying to bring these services on campus.
  • Creating a document detailing a cheap, easy shopping list and where locally to acquire the items on it. This could be accompanied by recipe suggestions and cooking classes during orientation. Stating that a person must eat healthily to be healthy is not enough, so many people enter college unequipped to do this, and potentially leave the same way.
  • Assess canteen/ on site food services and encourage them to set standards for the healthiness of their menus. This can be done by outside bodies like the Irish Heart Foundations Happy Heart award. Ensure that on campus food services price healthy options in a way that is accessible.
  • Where students’ Union own their own shops or restaurant promote local, nutritious foods at prices students can afford. This can be done in conjunction with local resources such as those listed above.

 3.3) Provide classes for students to become physically active and present an opportunity for students to be educated in how to eat healthier. 

  • At the start of year CO’s should look into providing introduction classes for students when starting college but trailed towards they’re non-academic life.
    • These classes can cover a wide range of issues such as how to cook, skills to getting on with roommates, how to handle anxieties and how to be healthy.
    • Students could be shown how to cook on a budget and how to manage their own budgets.



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Kessler, R.C., Wand, P.S.,. 2009. The epidemiology of depression. [book auth.] I. H., Hammen, C. L., Gotlib. [ed.] I. H., Hammen, C. L., Gotlib. Handbook of depression. 2nd. New York : Guilford Press, 2009, pp. 5 – 22.

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Nutrition and Health Foundation. 2008. Easy Ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle on a budget for new college students. Nutrition and Health Foundation. [Online] 2008. 2011. Exercise Addiction. [Online] 2011.