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Dog walking to promote pawsitive student wellbeing

Dog walking is just one new initiative being introduced by the University of East Anglia (UEA) after they received around £12,000 of funding to help improve student wellbeing through physical activity.

The funding has been awarded to UEA through British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) which was obtained from Sport England, to support universities to develop projects that use exercise to tackle mental health issues.  

The money will enable UEA+sport to develop three new initiatives for its student population of around 17,000, including giving people the chance to walk dogs in groups around the campus grounds.

Research by UEA academic Prof Andy Jones from the Norwich Medical School suggests that the benefits of dog walking are significant, he said: “Our studies have shown that dog walking helps people to maintain their physical activity levels. In addition it is known that there are a wide range of social and mental health benefits.”

Oli Gray, uea(su) Activities and Opportunities Officer, said: “University can be a stressful time for students, with many feeling pressure from academic deadlines, financial worries and being away from home for the first time.

“Last year, in the largest study of its kind, the British Active Students Survey concluded that students who are more physically active have better mental wellbeing and attain higher academic grades.”

The funding will also be used to organise a number of walks in places like Cromer and Thetford Forest to allow students to see popular Norfolk attractions, while being physically active. It’s hoped that they’ll get more of a sense of their surroundings outside the Norwich University campus and develop feelings of belonging and their sense of place.

UEA have recently announced their sponsorship of the HSBC UK National Road Championships which will be held in Norwich in June, and they’re hoping to inspire people to get on the saddle in the lead up to the event. Therefore a proportion of the funding will go towards cycling safety courses and cycling sessions.

These initiatives have been developed in close collaboration with Student Services and are additional to the Wellbeing support Student Services already provide, which include wellbeing advice sessions, resilience and wellbeing workshops, talking therapies, an exercise referral scheme and a student-designed wellbeing app.

Florence Pond, who is a third year intercultural communications with business management student, said: “I think the dog walking scheme is a fantastic idea. I know so many students who will enjoy taking some time for themselves to de-stress, especially during the hectic exam season.”

Phil Steele, Director of Sport and Commercial Services, added: “Many students live away from their family homes and pets, so having contact with animals can be stress-relieving for them.

“The charity Pets as Therapy often visits us during exam periods so that students can pet the dogs, with the most recent session seeing hundreds of people queueing out the door- so we know this initiative is going to be hugely popular.

“We also hope to reduce some of the stigma which still surrounds mental health and raise awareness of the benefits of physical activity for mental wellbeing.”