U of T prof partners with KPE to host learn-to-run program for lifelong learning, success

Professor French with her students at the April MEC race

When Professor Michelle French started running to improve her fitness as a postdoctoral fellow, she would never have predicted that 20 years later she would create a running program – helping her students improve their physical, social and mental health.

But this past year, French worked with the support of U of T’s Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education (KPE) and Hart House to create a 10-week running program, culminating in a 5 km MEC Run. The program was designed by MoveU, a university-wide initiative that helps all students to get active.

“During my postdoctoral fellowship at U of T I ran with a group of women, and I met a woman there who has been my running partner for 20 years!” says French, a professor in the Department of Physiology. “I saw a MoveU poster on campus, and I decided to organize this running group so my students could apply what they’ve learned in class, connect with others and de-stress.”

33 students in French’s Human Physiology class joined a 10-week learn-to-run program with the Runner’s Academy at Hart House every Monday night. In addition, approximately 74 students joined her every Wednesday and Friday afternoon at the Athletic Centre for a community run.

MoveU volunteers also visited French’s class to guide students through simple exercises. These five-minute movement breaks allowed students to stretch and regain concentration.

The training ended with a 5 km MEC run in April, in which 38 students participated. Some students even brought their parents to cheer them on. Students also earned recognition for their co-curricular record, a program designed to document students’ skills and experiences beyond the classroom.

“We got to meet with Professor French and talk about more than just lecture material. I ran the MEC race with a friend from the program – it got tough at the end but we made it through!” says Matthew Pham, a second-year Arts and Science student. “This was a perfect opportunity to have fun and meet other students.”

Fellow second-year Arts and Science student, Kevin Galido, agrees. “Before the program, I had started to exercise – I had lost 60 pounds and my marks had gone up by 10 per cent. This program reinforced my cardio routine. It was an exemplary experience and I hope it continues in the future!”

What’s next for MoveU and the learn-to-run program?

“We’re interested in reaching out to all professors to show them that physical activity can easily be integrated into the classroom – whether it’s through a classroom movement break, running or another activity,” says Danielle Dinunzio, assistant manager of physical activity at KPE and lead organizer. “We want to inspire all students to get active and to become their most productive selves.”

Professor French was inspired by this year’s program and plans to continue with it next year.

“I want to thank the students for coming out this year. It’s because of their enthusiasm that we’re keen to do it again,” says French. We’re keen to help the program grow. I highly recommend others to follow in our footsteps!”

For more information, visit physical.utoronto.ca/MoveU