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The Mental Side of Movement

female students stretching EC mental health
When Endicott reopened to students in September 2020, the College knew the importance of keeping the Post Sport Science & Fitness Center open as well.
By: Erin Hatch


This is the third story in a series about mental health on the Endicott College campus. Learn more about spiritual support on campus and the new Wellness Center.

When Endicott reopened to students in September 2020, the College knew the importance of keeping the Post Sport Science & Fitness Center open as well.

Folks like Mark Kulakowski Jr., Assistant Athletic Director, Facilities and Recreation, understood that the ability to work out at the Post Center could be an important mental health lifeline for students struggling with isolation and stress brought about by COVID restrictions.Head shot Mark K

“Last year it was imperative to keep this place open, and we did everything and anything to do that,” he shared. “It was easier to say ‘no’ last year, to not have to figure it out. But we needed to find out how to say ‘yes.’ We knew it was an important place to get away for our students.”

Exercise science major Mikyla Burnett ’22 appreciated that effort. “Even during the semesters with strict protocols due to COVID, we were able to still access the fitness center, just with a smaller capacity, thanks to Mr. Kulakowski,” she said.

That time at the Post was special, according to Connor Amsley ’23, who faced the challenges of lockdown by staying active.

“I placed a heavy importance on staying busy and keeping my mind and body at work,” he said. “Endicott College and my home gym allowed me to take two hours out of my day to work hard and be busy, instead of staying in and feeling trapped by the possible dangers within our society.”

This is Your Brain on Exercise

Marisa Mickey, Faculty Department Lead and Assistant Professor in the School of Sport Science, knows there is a strong connection between mental health and exercise, even if the exact details are difficult to determine.

“Some research suggests that exercise may increase endorphins or serotonin or brain-derived neurotrophic factor,” she explained. “What is nice is that exercise can work both acutely to help alleviate any psychological disturbances such as anger, tension, and confusion, and chronic exercise—approximately a 12- to 16-week streak or longer—has been shown to decrease both anxiety and depression in individuals.”

Mickey advises that any movement brings benefits.

“There is no one better exercise for improving mental health. It really does not even need to be exercise—rather, physical activity itself,” she said. “As exercise professionals we want our clients to do things that they enjoy. Exercise is fun and should be thought of as a way to de-stress and make time for yourself, so it is best to do what you enjoy or it just becomes something else to add to the list.”

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that individuals accumulate 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, to promote overall health and wellbeing.

But Mickey reminds us not to feel intimidated by those numbers: “It is important to keep in mind that anything is better than nothing,” she said. “It’s not just exercise that’s good for you—overall physical activity can improve mental health as well. This can mean taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking further from a door and walking, or even cleaning your house or room.”

The Post and Beyond

This year, things at the Post Center almost feel back to a pre-pandemic normal. According to Kulakowski, the College is determined to make sure the Post Center is an up-to-date and innovative facility for students. In the exercise and weight room, cardio machines are replaced every fourth year, and Endicott stays on top of trends such as the new indoor turf area.

Weights and treadmills not your thing? Try an aerobics class, running track, shooting hoops, intramural events, or even e-sports. At Endicott, intramurals keep to a shorter five-to-six-week season, which allows students more opportunity to try different offerings per semester.

Pop up events, coordinated with Student Engagement, have brought unexpected ways to work movement and sport into having fun. Past events include Harry Potter-themed dodgeball and a ping pong tournament, and upcoming events include a Mario Cart tournament with the Gaming Gulls club (December 2), and a poker tournament (December 9).

If a breath of fresh air sounds more appealing, you’re in a great spot. “Endicott has great geography for getting outdoors,” said Kulakowski. “Students love to go run at Dane Street Beach, Lynch Park, or down to Manchester or Beverly Farms. It’s safe, beautiful, and free.”

Or, perhaps a meet-up with likeminded students sounds like a more energizing way to get moving.

“We have a few clubs that focus on movement, the outdoors, and exercise,” said Alyssa Laurenza, Assistant Director of Student Engagement. “From the Outdoor Adventure Club to Ultimate Frisbee or the Endicott Environmental Society, they are a great opportunity to meet new people and stay active in different capacities. Outdoor Adventure Club has bi-weekly hikes off campus and Endicott Environmental Society has hosted hikes right on campus, through our Endicott trails.”

But for those individuals who might find the task of regular exercise daunting, take heart with these words from Burnett:

“A lot of people find it difficult to be motivated to work out, and I would be lying if I said I was always motivated every time I walked into the gym,” she admitted. “But I’ve never worked out and regretted it. There are a lot of things you can't control in life, but exercising is one thing you can.”

Looking to get some movement in? Check out the Post Center hours or call or email Mark Kulakowski for a fitness orientation or equipment walkthrough.