SPF Spotlight: Spin Bike Gardens at McGill

The Sandbox

By Mandakini Chandra

Spin bikes, plants, and meditative art.

That’s what Nurse Louise Lockhart is prescribing to McGill students, staff and faculty members in need of enjoyable mental and physical health breaks. McGill’s first ‘spin bike gardens’ will be designed and installed in key locations on the downtown and Macdonald campuses, including the Brown building’s 4th and 5th floors, McGill’s libraries, the 3rd floor of McIntyre building, the Barton building at Macdonald campus, and the 5th floor of the Trottier building. The idea is to provide a quiet, convenient mental health break in areas where students and staff are busy at work, and make cardio activity more accessible to the community.

Louise Lockhart at the McIntyre Medical Building Spin Bike Garden.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada has indicated that up to 70% of all long and short-term absences from work can be due to mental health. At McGill, mental health has been an issue of great trepidation for both the community and the administration. “Burnout is not secret!” Nurse Lockhart says. “So much is demanded of both staff and students at an institution like McGill.”

Evidence suggests that exercise can boost moods, increase effectiveness at work and reduce daily frustration. It’s also been shown to both treat and prevent mild to moderate depression. That’s where the spin bikes come in.

“Providing tools that help our community members focus better, de-stress, and literally refresh their mind with the increased cerebral blood flow that comes with moderate intensity exercise would be a practical way for them to sustain their own mental wellness,” Nurse Lockhart says.

Funded by the Sustainability Projects Fund, the initiative is a conscious and proactive step towards creating sustainable spaces for health and wellness. It aims to create a deep cultural and social change in place of ‘band-aid’ solutions to mental health crises.

“To me, providing tangible tools to help our community members remain resilient against stress despite demanding working conditions is sustainability,” says Nurse Lockart. Spin bikes could create a paradigm shift around exercise, too; they could reframe exercise as an easy and desirable tool to create wellbeing in an age of overwhelmingly sedentary lifestyles. To this end, the project will feature a health campaign that will debunk myths about exercise as being overly physically challenging or focused on body types.

The initiative has definitely been an interdisciplinary effort. Ginny Kennyon, a Masters Student in Occupational Therapy, and Brighita Lungu, an architectural designer and Ph.D. Candidate at the School of Architecture, played a critical role in the research that led to an ‘experts day’ in May. The community consultation was an effort to get input from engineers, health specialists, building directors, and student leaders. The project has also worked closely with McGill’s Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, Athletics and Recreation at Mac, and Senior Campus Space Planner Paul Guenther. “These folks have been what I would call the advisors. They are all grounded, no-nonsense, let’s-get-stuff-done kind of folks, and they’ve been awesome at offering guidance for the larger vision and direction of the project,” says Nurse Lockhart.

In addition to the spaces, the team also aims to set up a website managed by a wellness-related unit of Student Services, featuring educational resources, research on the stations, instructions for setting up the bike gardens, and promotional tools. The bikes are all set to be managed by McGill Athletics, while steward teams will be set up to care for the plants. “Once in place, the un-manned bike stations would sustain themselves, needing only cleaning and routine maintenance,” Nurse Lockhart says. “Later phases of the project could include generating energy from the bikes in order to power calming lights in the stations or bike apps, or watering plants with grey water from nearby fountains.”

So how can students, staff, or faculty members get involved? “First of all, we are now looking for leaders for each building who are interested in taking the reins with promotion and working with building directors to work out any logistics,” says Nurse Lockhart. “We also need volunteers in January who will play an integral role in maintaining the spaces once they are set up on a weekly or biweekly basis.”

If you’re looking for a more tangible way to contribute to the Spin Bike Gardens, you can donate your old phone chargers to Room 4100 in the Brown Building – the donations will be used in the garden spaces! You can also follow them on Facebook.

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