This week, West Virginia University Student Health hosted a "Puppy Pilates" class aimed at de-stressing students before finals.
At the outdoor recreation fields behind WVU's College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences building, several dozen students lined up mats in anticipation of class. At first, the atmosphere was relatively quiet, like one might expect before a normal yoga or Pilates class.
Then the dogs begin arriving.
The dogs played chase around exercisers, cuddled and rested with participants and wandered between the rows, prompting students to reach out their hands asking if the canines wanted pets.
The Pilates class was held outdoors on a fenced in field where the dogs could roam freely. All of the dogs were all provided by participants.
The class was led by Katie Goldsmith of Mountain Top Pilates.
She said the class was about 50-50 exercise and a mental health break, "[be]cause there was a lot of laughter going on, a lot of crazy puppies running through the crowd. I definitely broke a sweat though," she said.
Some studies suggest that laughter can reduce the so- called "stress hormones," including cortisol, but experts say further research is needed. Meanwhile a plethora of research does show that pet ownership, or just being in the presence of a companion animal, is associated with improvements in mental, social and physiologic health.
"I saw something online a few months ago about goat yoga and I just thought 'you know what’s better than goat yoga, probably puppy Pilates,'" said Chelsea Betts, communications specialist for WVU Student Health and the event's organizer. "Like, everybody loves dogs and not every student has a goat so I thought it would be a good way to get students to come out and exercise and bond with their dog and it’s a great way for them to de-stress before finals as well."
Students Eviana Barnes and Kendal Demarco, both freshman, said the experience was "amazing" and "the best day of my life." They said puppy Pilates combined their love of working out with their love for dogs.
Goldsmith and Betts said the nice thing about incorporating dogs into an activity like Pilates is that it helps draw people into participating in something you might not have otherwise. Although many students admitted this was not the most strenuous workout they’ve ever done, they did say it was just the stress relief they needed before heading into finals.
Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting, with support from the Marshall Health, Charleston Area Medical Center and WVU Medicine.