A record number of young people, and particularly college-aged men, are committing suicide. Increasing numbers of young people suffer from chronic anxiety and depression. America is generally overweight. Fear not – many of these conditions can be treated or reversed through education and changes in habit. Enter fraternities.
Which committee or chairman position is most neglected? Arguments can be made for many, but my vote goes to Health & Wellness (H&W). So, as someone who received a degree in integrative health, I figure I should help fill that void. (I know, cool brag)
How Can Fraternities Build A Healthier World?
Fraternity leaders today are more attuned to well-being compared to two or three years ago. That said, our approach to health is fragmented and limited in scope. This is not due to a lack of concern – inter/national fraternities are just not designed to address the topic. Some have made “mental health awareness” a priority – but most approach “health” in the context of risk management.
Listed below are 19 thoughts to consider for a chapter health and wellness program. But please remember that nothing I share is “all or nothing.” If you only have time to put together some resources, then that’ll do some brothers some good, and some good is better than nothing.
They are divided into 4 categories: Preparation (1-4), Resources & Support (5-10), Holistic Health (11-15), and Fun & Stuff (16-19). Enjoy :).
1. Establish Chapter Goals
Keep your overall chapter goal simple unless H&W is a top three priority for your chapter. (See this post to get what I mean by “top 3 priority”)
For example, you may make it your objective that all members improve in their physical, emotional and cognitive health prior to graduation. You may track health metrics (weight, body mass, etc.), but I would suggest encouraging members to focus on what they can control. We can’t control whether we lose weight – for example – but we can control the things we do to lose weight.
Most people want to be healthy. Keep your objectives broad enough that they can apply to a variety of people. Not everyone can or wants to be be shredded or completely devoid of anxiety. There is such a thing as positive stress. So, the goal of any H&W plan is to move closer to an ideal.
2. Build the Program Around a Position or Committee
Here’s an obvious fact: different fraternities lay out different structures and expectations for their officers. That said, your chapter has plenty of room to tinker or innovate. Consider a few different set ups while you’re in the process of revamping or starting a H&W program:
A) We have a single Health & Wellness person:
Your focus should be on resources and collaborative efforts. Collaborate with organizations, departments, or trainers on campus or in the local community. I will share ideas to integrate H&W into all chapter activities later in this post.
This is an impactful, low-maintenance approach for smaller chapter or chapters without a dedicated H&W person. It is easy to manage and maintain.
B) We use a “traditional” committee structure:
When I say “traditional” committee, I just mean that you have a group of 2 or more members focused on a task. Where committees fall apart – in my observation – is a lack of individual specialization. Each member should have a specific role, and the committee should collaborate to help each role succeed.
So, there may be a member who is focused on mental health resources. Another focuses on physical training. One may be in charge of integrating H&W into chapter activities. The chairperson’s work is to blend everything together and choose what gets priority and when.
C) We want a different or competitive approach:
We can call this the “Class Leader” approach. It is similar in theory to this post about Big Brothers being the new member educators. In this setup, you have a H&W chairman (like the others) who oversees a committee. A member from each class, family tree, or whatever internal “teams” you have, is appointed or elected to the committee.
It can operate just like a standard committee, but offers two unique qualities or benefits: First, it creates a pipeline of potential H&W leaders. (especially if you go by class year) Second, each person has a well-defined group of members to keep track of. We are not creating separate H&W teams. Each “class leader” supports and keeps track of the progress of each of their class members or family-tree members.
3. Choose “Optional” or “Mandatory” (and Stick With It)
Expectations associated with your H&W program must be entirely optional or entirely mandatory. Optional means that everyone, including new members, may opt-out. Mandatory means that everyone, including graduating seniors, must take part.
It shouldn’t be more strenuous for one group of members than another regardless of which choice you make. Finally, only make it “mandatory” if it is an essential component of your chapter’s identity. That means you take it as seriously as meetings, ritual, fundraisers, etc.
4. Poll the Crowd
Use an anonymous or confidential poll to determine what your brothers want out of a H&W program. Use a confidential survey to determine what individual members want to improve upon prior to graduation. Do this regardless of your qualification to create a program.
Set checkpoints after a goal is met or an even is complete to gather feedback. Keep tabs on your members by regularly polling the crowd. You do not have to do what they say. Still, it is better to make sure people are into what you are building before you waste a bunch of time or money doing it. Stick to what fits within the scope of your chapter’s overarching goal for wellness.
Resources & Support
5. Build a Wellness Resource Bank & Share It
The best place to start, whether you are an individual or working with a committee, is to study your environment. Research and compile as many H&W-related resources as possible. Put them into a “bank” that you and/or your committee has access to.
Share these resources with your members in a variety of ways. Post a flyer about healthy stools and urine inside of bathroom stalls or above a urinal. Send a weekly text message with an article related to exercise or meditation. Print out some simple, nutrient-dense recipes to post in your kitchen. Offer advice on what to get in the cafeteria.
Go crazy. Resources are fun! (not really, but let’s pretend)
6. Bring in a Nutritionist
Find someone professionally capable of discussing nutrition and ask them to speak with your chapter. It could be a professor, a campus professional, an alumnus, or an undergraduate with a certification. Ask them to cover topics like meal preparation, nutrient-dense foods, and dieting.
Consider conversations around supplements and disorders. Cover a wide range of topics and establish a line of communication so that members feel comfortable asking questions. Find someone you trust to occasionally offer advice if you or your brothers have a concern.
Again: Keep it professional. Johnny Six-Pack may have a six-pack, but not everyone needs pre-workout, a protein shake, and Johnny’s boiled chicken recipe.
7. Track Progress – REASONABLY
For the sake of sticking to your chapter’s goal, track progress in some way shape or form. Perhaps you conduct an annual (and confidential) weigh in. You might have a sticker chart to show when members attended H&W activities.
It is best, and I will repeat this often, to keep it simple. You can’t know what your successor can handle until your chapter has gotten into the groove and standardized its H&W plan. Start slow, and prioritize tracking what people can change. The next point may help …
8. Health Journals: Do Them
Include in your resource bank a list of apps or physical booklets which help people track their fitness. Encourage each member to track something. For example, encourage brothers to record their meals for one week of each month. Even if a member improves his eating for just that one week, it’s still 12 weeks of better nutrition each year!
Apps provided by Fitbit, or that work with an Apple Watch track a variety of fitness-related information. There are journals specifically designed to track exercise and eating habits. Beyond all of that, keeping a regular journal is good for the mind. It helps people process their day.
It doesn’t need to be a rundown of daily activities. Encourage brothers to write down their thoughts every once in a while. Leave 5 minutes of chapter meeting time to journal independently.
9. Bring in a Relationship Specialist
Incorporate inter-personal relationship education in your H&W plan. The relationships we establish with friends, family and lovers are a major influence on our behavior and well-being. Find a book to read as a group or recruit a professional to talk about healthy relationships.
I recently gave away a copy of Aaron Boe’s “In A Relationship” to an email subscriber. [subscribe here, bruh] It is not the end-all-be-all of relationship advice, but it offers candid relationship-building advice without lecturing the reader. Incorporating this (or something like it) into your wellness program may help brothers identify toxic relationships in their lives. It may also help your chapter be better hosts to your guests.
10. Organize Orientations
Work with your campus recreation center or a local gym to provide a facility orientation to all members. This is essential for chapters with mandatory programming. Ask the staff to explain the features of the facility, its amenities, the types of classes available, and how to use some of the equipment.
Gather interest from members to determine who may have use for a personal trainer. Most facilities offer a free trial with a personal trainer, which is enough time to learn to use the equipment. It can also assist in setting personalized goals or benchmarks. Organize additional orientations for your campus/local counseling office, medical center, and any other available recreation or health services.
11. Offer Variety to Challenge the Muscles
Some members want to outrun a zombie during the apocalypse. Some want to get “yoked.” (omg I’m so old…they want to build muscle) Others want to get through a day without contemplating all that’s wrong with their lives. Improvements in physical health have a mental effect, so keep your members interested in exercise by encouraging variety.
Beyond maintaining interest, variety helps those who have plateaued or who are struggling to find their H&W groove. Following the same exercise routine day-after-day leads to stagnation. Encourage members to switch up their routine and to try something new – such as any of the options below:
12. Go Outside & Bring Green Inside
The more you can do outside, the better. Be sure to pack sunscreen for your fair-skinned friends, then get to wherever there is greenery. Treadmills are depressing, but just being around green plants can boost one’s mood. (Learn about “awe”) Switching up the scenery contributes to the “variety” explained in #11.
Bring some easy-to-care-for plants into your chapter facility. (if you have one) Succulents require little light, about a tablespoon of water per month, and are small enough to tuck anywhere. Again, just being around plants improves our mood, so why not line your chapter room with green plants to offset the stress of bid night.
13. Group Fitness Is Great
Working out together makes working out more fun. It also encourages many people to try harder. Group classes are not for everyone, but try to incorporate them where you can. Group fitness could mean Zumba, Aerobics, Circuit Training, Yoga, or Meditation. It depends on how granola you can get as a chapter.
Yoga in particular is fun to do with a group of brothers. There are likely classes on your campus, but if cost is an issue then just follow along to a Youtube video. Do it outside, listen for farts, giggle a little bit, and enjoy the stretch. By the way, strength without flexibility is worthless – so get everyone to stretch – yoga or not.
14. Mental Elasticity
There’s more to mental health than depression, anxiety, or suicide. Broaden your mind and focus some effort on mental elasticity. That means doing activities (like laughing yoga) for your happiness, but also giving your academically talented members a chance to shine.
Websites like Lumosity help train your brain with a variety of addictive games. Lumosity also tracks progress and provides score readouts, which are great for measuring progress. Consider asking members to pick up a second language with DuoLingo. Learn American Sign Language (ASL) for free from ASL Rochelle’s YouTube videos.
Let members practice with one another. Organize a miniature spelling bee, a Jeopardy party, or a simple math challenge. Brains plus brawn is sexy.
15. Chapter Recreation
Don’t rely on intramural sports to feed your members’ competitive itch. Competing with friends is fun, so organize occasional games or mini-tournaments within your chapter. These activities serve as wonderful recruiting opportunities. Just invite a potential new member to “a kick ball game with some friends.”
Get quirky. Play touch football, sure, but try for age-old favorites like kick-ball, animal volleyball, elimination (where it’s legal), or freeze tag. I once organized a capture the flag tournament for my chapter and some potential members. It was fun, we had fun, and everyone was running or walking for an hour or two.
Fun & Stuff
16. Integration 1: Brotherhood
Make H&W a key component of your brotherhood retreats. Go for a hike. Relieve some stress at a shooting range (if you’re into that). If your retreat lasts more than a day then consider including a ropes course, morning jogs, or yoga at sunrise/sunset.
The boost to your energy levels – plus a slew of other chemicals which affect your mental wellbeing – will result in better quality conversations. Create conversations around any H&W activity. Start with, “How did that feel?” and go from there. See, facilitation is easy!
Integration 2: Service/Philanthropy
If H&W is a priority for your chapter, then consider aligning with service or philanthropic causes associated with it. Pi Kappa Phi’s Ability Experience is a great example of something that can be integrated into a health and wellness program. Do you organize a day to adopt dogs from a local shelter? Well, offer to walk or care for the animals before and after the event.
17. Create Media to Share Online
Live stream your spelling bee (I’m really loving this idea of fraternity spelling bees, huh?) on Instagram, Snapchat, or Periscope. Organize phony press conferences after an intramural win. Share a clip of your “top 3 movers and shakers” after a group Zumba class. You don’t need to put all of this online. Just show a clip at a chapter meeting for a good laugh and some celebration.
The content you can pull from a H&W program can be social media gold. Just be sure not to make a mockery of your members for the sake of likes and laughs. Be a judgement free zone – unless you’re a chapter of a-holes. (In that case, good luck at your next membership review!)
19. Encourage The Heart
It is very easy to give up on H&W goals. The business model of a gym is such that it expects people to give up and maintain their memberships.
It is also easy to cheat using unhealthy habits such as crash dieting. Recognize members who take an active part in your program. Thank the men who show up to your pick-up kick ball game. Give a certificate to the “Nimblest Mind of XYZ Fraternity” for winning a Lumosity tournament. Again, focus goals and track statistics based on what people can control.
Give brothers stickers, certificates, pats on the back, gift cards, or whatever it takes to encourage them to keep improving their body and mind. You would be surprised at how many people can be motivated by a $5 gift card.
I would love to hear how your chapter’s H&W program works, what you like about it, and if anything on this list helped. Sound off in the comments or reach out to me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram with thoughts or suggestions.