Category Archives: News

The Health Benefits of Volunteering

Is volunteering a form of self-care? Researchers Eric Kim and Sara Konrath featured in a recent article published by The Atlantic think so. Konrath even believes that, in addition to their suggestions of healthy eating and exercising, doctors “should tell people about the health benefits of social activities, including volunteering.”

Their evidence? The researchers’ joint study of 7168 Americans older than 50 suggests that those study participants who choose to regularly participate in volunteer work were more likely to receive “flu shots, mammograms, Pap smears, cholesterol tests, and prostate exams. Most importantly, volunteering was associated with 38 percent fewer nights spent in the hospital.” In other words, as Konrath put it, “What this shows is that volunteers make decisions about their health that are different from non-volunteers…One way to think about this is that when we care for ourselves, in a fundamental way, it allows us to care for others.”

The connection between self-care and care directed outwardly is undeniable based on the research of Kim and Konrath. To hear more about the fascinating findings of their studies, check out the article “The Physical Power of Altruism” using the following link:

Luckily, here at Bowdoin we’re surrounded by opportunities to volunteer. Bowdoin’s emphasis on its historical connection to and tradition of supporting the common good is embodied in institutions such as the McKeen Center, where students can find ways to connect with Brunswick and its surrounding communities and the world beyond. So, sign up for an Alternative Spring Break. Take advantage of Common Good Day. And always keep your eyes open for new opportunities to cultivate or support your passion for volunteering, knowing the intrinsically gratifying experience could come with all sorts of health advantages!

Staying Motivated

When the clock strikes midnight, when the closing bell goes off at H-L, when your eyes turn bleary, what motivates you to finish those seemingly unending stacks of homework? A shot of espresso? A cafe cookie? A brisk walk in the Bowdoin fall-winter air?

The Atlantic reports that researchers have found a way to reinvigorate and renew motivation. Behavioral economists have long told us that it is a “sense of progress” that keeps adults motivated in their working lives. Taking the science one step further, however, researchers at Duke University demonstrated this effect using Legos. By offering students an opportunity to build a Lego Bionicle for $3, decreasing the cost to build each successive Bionicle until the subjects had had enough. In a second iteration of the experiment, the students were presented with the same offer, but had to watch each Bionicle they’d created be deconstructed, brick by tiny lego brick, before being offered to build another one. Naturally, the subjects in the first run of the experiment showed vastly more interest in building more Bionicles. Even with something utterly distinct from their own happiness and well-being [the construction of a miniature, plastic, robot-doll], the sense of progress the subjects experienced by accumulating constructed Bionicles compelled them to build more.

And it’s pretty easy to imagine this result holding true outside of the playroom, or science laboratory, as the case may be. Seeing the fruits of our labor stack up, whether it’s pages of printed paper or repetitions of a study, is highly satisfying. It proves to us that our mental strain means something, creates something, and often, this knowledge is enough to keep us going.

The truth is, motivation is personal – we all find different ways to keep ourselves going when the going gets tough. But understanding the premise demonstrated by the Lego experiment – that progress creates progress – is a notion guaranteed to keep your fingers pattering away on the keyboard when you’ve still got three pages to go.

To find out more, check out this awesome Atlantic article:


The Shared Experience of Health

Living together as a community on Bowdoin’s campus, we all play a role in fostering the general well-being of the people around us – our fellow students, faculty, staff, and even visitors to the College. Having lived (at the very least) for a few months in our little microcosm may have left us with some sense of this interconnectivity. The ways and the extent to which we influence the health of our peers may sometimes be obvious, and sometimes a little more tricky to discern.

Check out this awesome article from the Atlantic that discusses the conception of health as “a shared experience.” Studies are showing that the rigid expectations of health individualism that have been ingrained in us since the first day we were allowed to have a physical without our parent or guardian in the room may not be the most productive way to frame health care. This is because certain health issues – think: smoking cessation, alcohol use, medication regimens, physical activity – are often experienced in communal settings. That is, the aforementioned health issues can affect or be affected by more than just the individual patient. This means that in terms of health care, there is a difference between treating a broken ankle and a tobacco addiction. For the latter, the community can be a helpful way to enhance care, improve accountability, support management of health conditions, and more.

As members of such a small and tightknit community, we all have a part to play in making sure each person on our campus can be as healthy as possible, even if that role isn’t always apparent. Click on the link to the article below if you’d like to find out more about what the “shared experience of health” can look like!

Mindfulness Matters!

What does it mean to be mindful? Practicing yoga? Taking long walks in the woods? Definitions of mindfulness vary, but its positive effects on attitude, attention and general mental health are pretty constant. The term was developed in the 1970s by the biologist Jon Kabat-Zinn, but the act it describes, that is, “paying attention on purpose” has been around for millennia, adapted in large part from Buddhist meditation traditions. Mindfulness is a way of thinking more carefully and concertedly about the routine activities of daily life, thereby maintaining mental presence in the moment.

Is practicing mindfulness already part of your daily routine? Studies show that you’re likely better for it. The Atlantic asserts that being mindful “improves attention, reduces stress, and results in better emotional regulation and an improved capacity for compassion and empathy,” and evidence is growing in favor of the positive effects of this conceptually simple practice. It’s worth noting, however, that mindfulness, as simple as it may seem, is usually not a default state of mind. It takes most a little training to be able to capitalize on the various benefits of being mindful. Check out the article below to read about the ways mindfulness training is being incorporated into classrooms, and for ideas on how to bring mindful practices into your life here at Bowdoin!

What Does it Mean to be a Man?

Peer Health asked this question to students across Bowdoin’s campus, and they got varied, interesting and insightful answers. Click the link below to watch the video exploring campus perceptions of what being a man is all about.

Peer Health Perspectives!

Thinking about applying to Peer Health? Interested in learning more about what we do? Members Erin, Anna, Omar, and Tim have some thoughts to share about their own experiences as a part of Peer Health at Bowdoin!

Erin Houlihan, 2017, major: EOS

Anna Morton, 2015, major: English, minor: Theater

Omar Sohail, 2015, major: Religion, minor: Chemistry minor‬

Tim Coston, 2017, major: EOS and Physics

What is your favorite thing about being a member of Peer Health?
Erin: My favorite thing about Peer Health is being part of a welcoming, enthusiastic, and accepting group on campus, while learning new skills, creating a variety of programs, and getting to know first-years through the Peer 2 Peer Program.
Anna: My favorite thing about being a member of Peer Health has been getting to know all of the other amazing people in the group.
Omar: Having a weekly space to have intimate conversations with some of the most caring people on campus. Plus, getting to see Whitney at least weekly.‬
Tim: My favorite thing about being a member of peer health is the great support group that comes along with being a member. Our weekly meetings are always a great refresher and a wonderful way to connect with peers in a completely different way.

What was something you learned while on Peer Health?
Erin: I learned motivational interviewing skills and gained a variety of perspectives and stories from my peers.
Anna: Peer Health has taught me that sometimes the most helpful thing you can do for another person is just to listen to them.
Omar: That’s a tough question…I’d say how to listen. How to truly listen to what someone is saying, even if you don’t agree with what he/she is saying or you don’t know how to respond. ‬
Tim: The biggest thing that I have learned while on Peer Health is that everybody’s personal history is always so much more complex and surprising than you could ever imagine.

What health topic are you most passionate about?
Erin: Mental Health including self-care and mindfulness.
Anna: The health topic that I am most passionate about self-care and wellness. I think these are practices that are especially important to promote on a college campus.
Omar: I’m most passionate about anxiety and how Bowdoin culture sometimes promotes anxiety. I like talking about mindfulness, exercise, and food. Mostly food.‬
Tim: I am most interested in mental health at Bowdoin. I believe that it is something that is really under the radar but affects a greater proportion of the student body than most students realize.

Applications have been emailed school-wide, so check your inboxes to find the link! If you have any questions or would like more information, please email Kendall Carpenter ’15 (

The AIDS Quilt’s Visit to Bowdoin

On Monday February 2nd, an important piece of the troubling history of the AIDS epidemic in America came to Bowdoin, when a panel from the AIDS Quilt goes on display in Lamarche Gallery. The AIDS Quilt was an initiative started in San Francisco, by gay rights activist Cleve Jones. The idea originally came to Jones in 1985, when, as a part of his organization of the annual candlelight march to honor the assassinations of Harvey Milk and George Moscone, he learned of the over 1,000 San Franciscans who had already died of AIDS. He asked each of the marchers at the event to place a card with the name of one their deceased fellow citizens on the side of the San Francisco Federal Building. The final effect bore a striking resemblance to a quilt.
Thus the idea for the Aids Quilt was born, and two years later, in June 1987, the project was started in earnest. People from all over the country began sending handmade quilt panels into the project’s San Francisco office, with high volumes of panels sent from cities in which the epidemic had been heavily affected, such as Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco itself. On October 11, 1987, the Quilt made its most remarkable public appearance, carried by demonstrators onto the National Mall in Washington D.C. during the National March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights. The Quilt, which at this point was composed of 1920 panels – making it larger than a football field – was visited by over half a million people that weekend.
Not long after, in the spring of 1988, the Quilt made a four-month, twenty-city national tour, which raised almost $500,000 for AIDS service organizations. In each city, new panels were added to the quilt, and by the end of the four-month period, it had accumulated 6000 new panels. Within four years, the Quilt contained panels from every state and twenty-eight countries worldwide. Today, the Quilt has 48,000 panels, making it the largest community art project in the world. And it’s still growing – anyone can design their own panel to add to the collection and to honor the life of an AIDS victim. Out of necessity, the Quilt has been separated into smaller collections of panels, one of which is housed by our campus this week.
The Quilt was a way of both honoring the individual lives lost to the AIDS epidemic as it first swept across America while insisting on public (and, in the context of the 1987 March on the National Mall, governmental) acknowledgment of the huge number of lives lost to the disease. This was necessary, as governmental and administrative reaction to the very real epidemic was reluctant at the start. It wasn’t even until 1981 when the CDC released its first warning about the disease, describing AIDS as a “rare form of pneumonia affecting a relatively small number of gay men.” Although our research, treatment and general understanding of the AIDS virus has vastly improved since that time, the Quilt reminds viewers that the support and treatment available for people living with AIDS today has not always been there. And with new panels being submitted to the project, it also reminds us that the virus has not gone away.
Indeed, despite huge amounts of scientific research and education regarding prevention measures, 56,000 new HIV cases and 18,000 HIV-related deaths are reported annually in the U.S. alone, and there are currently 1.1 million Americans living with the disease. And even with advancements in highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART, also known as the AIDS cocktail), living with the disease is no small task. Generic versions of this treatment were approved and introduced between 2009 and 2010, making it more affordable to patients around the globe, but the cost is still hugely expensive. The CDC estimates that the average annual HIV treatment cost for HAART was $23,000, with the most recently published estimates of lifetime costs coming out at a staggering $379,688. This cost makes treatment out of reach for many Americans living with HIV. Individual access to life-saving HIV treatment may be one of the largest ethical dilemmas facing our medical system today. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that HAART treatments make patients more vulnerable to developing diabetes, hypertension, chronic kidney disease, and contributing to bone loss.
Although the face of AIDS has changed since the inception of the AIDS Quilt project in the eighties, the realities that surround the virus have largely stayed the same. There is still undeniable stigma attached to the label “HIV-positive.” There are still huge obstacles for Americans living with HIV, of whom (according to the AIDS charity AVERT) less than 20% have private health insurance and over one-third do not have any health coverage at all. There is still educating to be done concerning HIV/AIDS transmission and prevention. The landscape surrounding the AIDS epidemic in America has changed in many ways, but there is still work to be done, and the Quilt reminds us of this. By enshrining each life lost in a beautiful, distinctive quilt panel, the AIDS Quilt sends a powerful message urging us all onward in the search for a cure to this virus.

Starting Monday, February 2nd, a panel of the AIDS Quilt will be on display in Lamarche Gallery on the second floor of Smith Union. On Tuesday, February 3rd, there was a reception at 6:30 followed by a talk at 7:00 by Birgit Pols entitled “Looking Back to Look Forward: AIDS in the 21st Century.” The Quilt will be on display until the 9th. We encourage everyone to go see it, reflect on the past, and the long road that is still ahead of us.

Wellness W-Tuesday (oops): I know I want a Massage

Have you seen the obnoxious posters in the Union? Have you received countless emails wondering what the heck they are about? What is this mysterious Alcohol Screening day?

Aside from the prizes (yes, there are prizes), which are heavily advertised in the posters and emails, this event holds value on an institutional level that is more influential than a 3-minute massage in the email. This year Peer Health launched the Peer to Peer program for the first-year class, which provided 30-minute conversations about alcohol and the social scene at Bowdoin for every member of the class of 2017. This time gave first-years a chance to reflect on their experiences and come to their own realizations about their own drinking at Bowdoin thus far: were they disappointed with college house parties? Did they feel uncomfortable around floormates drinking when they weren’t? Were they drinking too much? Peer Health members hardly spoke—giving first-years the opportunity to come to their own conclusions.

Tomorrow Peer to Peers will be coming to the Union in the form of Alcohol Screening Day, but this time every student gets a chance to reflect. These conversations however, will only take 5 minutes and will be based off a short anonymous survey taken before the similarly anonymous conversations with Peer Health and A-Team members. The program is designed to both assess a campus pulse on alcohol use and detect patterns of abuse and to facilitate self-reflective goal-oriented conversations with students about their tactics for navigating the alcohol scene on campus.

How do we attract students to this event? That’s where the prizes come in: free food, pub gift cards, and more, but best of all free massages for 5 minutes of your time.

So be there. Smith Union. 12:30 – 4:30pm.

Wellness Wednesday: There is a Couch Potato in Us All

Amidst the recent hubbub surrounding the perhaps negligible link between type-2 Diabetes and Obesity remains the question of the precise cause of this obesity. How did America get to the point where 36 percent of its citizens are obese? Why didn’t we do something to stop it?

Recently researchers found an even closer connection between owning modern technology—specifically televisions, computers, and cars—and the growing epidemic in the developing world. Having these high-priced consumer goods results in more sitting, watching, and less physical activity. Biologically, such lack of movement actually reduces the body’s ability to break down fats and use sugar in the blood for energy. A recent study showed that owning all three of these devices resulted in a 31 percent decrease in physical activity and a 21 percent increase in sitting, compared with those populations of people who owned no devices.

Accompanied by the intake of increased consumption of calories, a lifestyle of couch-potato-ing can having some serious side effects.

On the other hand fitness companies like Nike, Wii, and Apple, have been producing similar devices, which are designed to do just the opposite: to promote fitness. Smart-phone apps can count calories and miles, teach correct lifting form, and can auto-alert its user about their upcoming workouts, while video games like the Wii Fit allow players to dance, box, do yoga, and tennis. allows users to create running routes and find ones other runners have posted, while Nike+ Running app counts mileage while on the go with a chip you can slip into your shoes.

Whether you’re getting lazier, or gearing up with your fitness apps, it’s alarming how much direct influence technology has on our bodies, begging the question: Which trajectory will technology’s effect on obesity take in the coming years?

Only time will tell, but in light of Feel Good in February, one piece of advice will get you far: just get off the couch.

SPECIAL Wellness Wednesday: Understanding Changes to the Health Center

Do you like our Health center? Or do you walk out frustrated when you can’t get an appointment, or if you can’t walk out with your drugs right away? This week Greg Rosen brings us a comprehensive understanding of the administration’s recent announcement calling changes to the Bowdoin Health Center. This new change may not bring the benefits the administration calls for. Read below:

Two weeks ago, the Bowdoin Orient published a review of the possible changes to the Health Center’s structure following Sandra Hayes’ departure. Conceivable modifications to the Health Center model include: outsourcing the Health Center’s services to a private firm, outsourcing administrative work to another healthcare provider, and maintaining the current model with a replacement Director of Health Services.

While acknowledging the shortcomings of any system is healthy, and entertaining the possibility of change is important, there still are many overlooked benefits to the current Health Services model, which (if changed) could put the longevity of these benefits at risk.

For instance, under the current College model, Bowdoin employs all staff members of the Health Center. These excellent healthcare providers voluntarily chose to work in a college setting. They have a personal investment in community health and are passionate about the health issues college-aged students face. When a student makes an appointment at the Health Center, the care this student receives is informed by campus knowledge and a community-based approach to healthcare.

Empathy goes a long way in health.

Outsourcing the Health Center may mean an end to healthcare providers with a specific interest in working in a college environment. While such a structural change may bring more walk-in hours and shorter wait times, it may also mean the type of care Bowdoin students receive will lack knowledge and understanding of the campus culture and norms that inherently influence the health issues we face.

It might also inhibit establishing personal relationships with the Health Center staff. For many students, being able to meet with a particular staff member is important in evaluating the Health Center’s work. Discussing particular health issues can be challenging and triggering for some students, and having a Health Center staff member act the role of not only a provider but also a confidant and mentor can facilitate honest discourse between provider and patient. Upon outsourcing the Health Center to another firm, that personal contact may no longer exist. It may be difficult for students to establish rapport with a particular clinical worker if these posts at Bowdoin are merely rotational, meaning reaching that point where the student feels comfortable sharing sensitive information with a healthcare provider may be much longer and more strenuous.

Time, however, is precious at Bowdoin. We can’t seem to get enough of it. It’s understandable that some students would prefer to be seen by Health Center staff immediately, have a quick appointment, get antibiotics, and then get out. For many other students at Bowdoin, spending time with their healthcare providers and forging personal bonds with them are essential to the way they navigate health issues in their college years. Indeed, relationships with Health Center staff are integral to many students’ Bowdoin experience, and a change in the model may put that type of experience in jeopardy.

Outsourcing the Health Center, in addition, can rupture vital relationships between the Health Center staff and other College staff/student groups. The equivalent of “Sex with Sandra,” organized by the Health Center’s Sandra Hayes and prompting students to flock en masse to 24 College, may not exist if clinical practitioners show no interest in working outside of clinical hours to help student groups promote health and wellness. Free Plan B Days – another program Peer Health runs in partnership with the Health Center – may no longer be possible if staff members of an outsourced Health Center take no initiative in spearheading the program.

While these programs and events fall outside the clinical practice of current staff members of the Health Center, they are vital to the wellness promotion efforts of campus groups, like Peer Health. Raising awareness of health issues, disseminating medically accurate health-related information to students, and providing students with tools and resources to navigate the complex health environment that we call College would be significantly stifled without the help of the Health Center.

Regardless of student posture on the Health Center and possible structural changes ahead, recognizing all the options and being mindful of what may no longer exist following changes to the Health Center’s current model are vital to an informed understanding of the issues Dean Foster and the College are currently wrestling. We encourage all Bowdoin students to learn more about these possible changes and voice their opinions about them.

We are lucky to have a Health Center that employs staff members trained in college-campus health literacy and competency, hands out barrier methods and emergency contraception on demand, and has strong partnerships with other on-campus resources which help cultivate a holistic vision of College health and wellness.