If there is one positive takeaway from the past two years of the coronavirus pandemic, it is the recognition of the importance of physical activity and exercise as an antidote to managing pandemic stress.
As people emerge from more than two years of self-quarantine, lockdowns and pandemic isolation, they are breaking free from periods of inactivity, anxiety and a sedentary lifestyle that puts them at risk for obesity, cardiovascular disease, depression and a host of other chronic health conditions.
A 2020 study of physical activity and sedentary behaviors during the pandemic reported that regular physical activity improves a person’s mood and the body’s immune function while reducing stress — something many of us need now.
The pandemic has spurred a transformation in the health club industry that, like other companies, has fostered innovation, change, flexibility and the need for more options to meet people’s changing habits and behaviors.
At MUSC, the crew that takes care of fitness and wellness never missed a beat. All remained engaged as they navigated pandemic restrictions, conflicting requirements, and changing campus-wide COVID policies and guidelines to continue the center’s mission of promoting healthy lifestyles and promoting well-being across campus.
Although the MUSC wellness center facility was temporarily closed during the early months of the pandemic, the center’s team responded, using technology and resources to find creative ways to connect and engage people in virtual workouts and yoga sessions that members and Were made available to employees , students and in particular members of the MUSC health team.
In December, Dustin Jackson was hired to replace Janis Newton, longtime director of the wellness center, who was retiring. A native of Atlanta, Jackson came to MUSC with years of experience managing the University of Georgia Student Recreation Center, the second largest collegiate recreational facility in the United States. Most recently, he worked with veterans and employees as the Southeast Manager of the Physical Health and Wellness Program at the Wounded Warrior Project in Atlanta, Georgia.
Since Jackson’s arrival at MUSC, he has focused on leading his team to run the center’s operations and respond to member needs, popular fitness trends, industry needs and the changes they bring.
The team, he explained, relies on information from member surveys, best practices and aggregated data to determine where they are and where they want to be. It is open to expanding programs and services to help current and prospective members achieve their social, emotional, spiritual, and physical health goals.
Gigi Smith, Ph.D., RN, Associate Provost, believes MUSC has a dual responsibility in the community — providing the best healthcare and influencing the well-being of South Carolina residents, particularly those living with illness and chronic health conditions Life. “If we don’t do both, we won’t have the kind of healthy community that we all aspire to,” Smith said.
“MUSC’s wellness center is truly one of a kind,” Jackson said, comparing it to recreational sports centers on other college campuses. “There are many things that MUSC offers that a person will not see, such as specialized clinical wellness programs for people living with Parkinson’s disease, programs for breast cancer survivors, and clinical rehabilitation programs that an academic health science center like ours is able to offer . That was what attracted me to come here.”
Another draw for Jackson is the community collaboration and partnerships. Many university and college fitness facilities and gyms cater specifically to the institution – its students, faculty and staff. The Wellness Center is actively involved in training and collaborating with other health clubs and city, county and community programs such as the Healthy Charleston Business Challenge, the Credit One Charleston Open Tennis Tournament (formerly the Family Circle Cup) and the Cooper River Bridge Run Expo and many other projects.
Located on the west side of the Charleston Peninsula, it’s usually within easy walking, jogging, or biking distance for downtown residents, students, and professionals.
“MUSC’s Wellness Center focuses on the Charleston community, which allows for variability in what we offer and to meet the needs of people at different times in their lives. That’s exciting for me. There are still opportunities that we can unlock and explore – the sky is the limit of what we have to offer,” Jackson said.
The center offers a variety of classes for large groups, from yoga, cycling, strength training, and cardio to boot camp, the HITS program, Pilates, and Health Works Cardio. In addition to personalized training and nutritional advice, the center also offers small-group programs such as Pilates, PowerUp Cardio Quest, and Next Wave, a science-based fitness training program.
The multi-story, 80,000-square-foot facility features a cardio room, a newly renovated free weights area; indoor olympic pool for juniors; group exercise studios; Cycling Spin Studio; boxing studio; multipurpose gym; Paddle and racquet courts for racquetball, squash, tennis and pickleball; indoor and roof running tracks; and changing areas.
“We want to help people realize that their health is important and a priority in their lives and that it’s good to be physically active. A healthy lifestyle leads to better results,” he said.
Post-pandemic, the center is focused on membership rebuilding. With the uncertainty of the pandemic and members finding new fitness routines, the center has seen membership decline. Today, with health clubs and gyms fully reopened and people returning to their routines, the center offers a variety of membership options that can be purchased online or in person. Digital registration is available for community members and staff to purchase monthly and yearly memberships. Other options include a three-month membership and an Xpress membership (specific times for midday and evening visits) and a one-time registration fee.
The MUSC Wellness Center team consists of certified trainers, wellness and membership staff and other support staff. Photo by Mark Staff Photography
MUSC’s Wellness Center has been consistently voted one of the best health clubs in the Charleston City Paper’s annual Best of Charleston competition. In addition to new equipment, programs and a commitment to maintaining a world-class facility in the Tri-County area, Jackson and his staff also take pride in ensuring the facility is a safe environment for its members and visitors.
Members enter the facility with a secure scan card or ID at a central access point that is always manned. In addition to video surveillance, staff are actively roaming the facility throughout the day to provide immediate assistance and guidance. In addition to the team’s fitness certifications and expertise, the 25-strong team is also CPR certified, Automated External Defibrillator certified and Title IX Harassment trained to manage and respond to all types of emergencies.
The team launched a new MUSC Wellness Center Magazine last December. The biannual magazine is a communication tool that outlines new programs, upcoming activities, personalized wellness stories, and important information for members and the community. According to Jackson, the next issue, to be distributed later this month, will include a free, single-use guest pass that anyone can redeem.
Jackson is excited that the center offers this opportunity. “We really want people to come to our facility and see and experience it for themselves. As soon as they walk through the door, they’re going to love it here,” he said.
For information on membership, personal training and fitness programs, call 843-792-5757 or visit the MUSC Wellness Center.