Appalachia Bare recently had the great pleasure of meeting Bruce Guillaume, founder of Mountain Challenge and Fit.Green.Happy.®️, and we discovered a common interest in our deep love for the Appalachian Mountains and her people, in a commitment to environmental sustainability, and in the belief that outdoor ventures administer a prescription for health and happiness. Bruce has graciously agreed to provide information about Fit.Green.Happy.®️
Somewhere between ‘going outside to do something’
(run, walk, hike, bike, work, paddle, etc.) and ‘staying inside’
lies ‘going outside just to go.’ Remember, just being outside is healthy!
Fit.Green.Happy.®️ is the non-profit arm of Mountain Challenge, an organization that provides high-quality and safe outdoor experiences designed to change the world for the better, one person at a time. Their social responsibility efforts are now entirely devoted to providing education, access, and resources to help people get fitter, greener, and happier. That meant concentrating Fit.Green.Happy® into its own entity with its own focus, separate and apart from Mountain Challenge.
The Fit.Green.Happy®️ Mission
We provide high quality, evidence-based educational experiences designed to enhance individual, family, group, and community health and happiness.
The Fit.Green.Happy.®️ movement is a seemingly new idea that has been in progress for over a decade, beginning in August of 2008. The entire East Tennessee region was an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) nonattainment area, meaning that basic EPA air quality standards were not met. We noticed some people were not physically capable of fully participating in our activity courses. One group came for a ropes course, but they were unable to venture into the woods, so they completed activities in our yard, instead.
Soon after, a large group of middle schoolers came to participate in a mobile ropes course; however, air quality was at an unhealthy level, which left some of the children gasping for breath. A week later, another middle school group arrived for a course. Quickly into the course, two kids returned with breathing troubles. Again, the air quality proved too poor for a course, impacting the capabilities of participants. We cancelled courses for the next week.
The end of August 2008 brought college freshman to us for orientation. As always, we looked at every health form. We were surprised to find that 15-20 young adults were prescribed some type of lifelong medication. Because of this, a new orientation group formed the following year: the Concrete Kids. This group was an option for students who identified themselves as unhealthy or were unsure about being outside.
Because participant health and environmental concerns were affecting the health and capabilities of our participants, we asked ourselves: what do we do? The two biggest pieces of advice we received were to look for an inside place and to increase the number of activities we did in the yard. Ultimately, we found both options unacceptable. We spent September and October thinking it through to find the best course of action . . .
We turned the problem into the solution. The obstacle ended up having the solution embedded in it, a real 180˚ way of looking at things. Since we found ourselves in the fitness and environmental initiatives business, we decided to start with Maryville College’s Crawford House in Maryville, Tennessee. We came across the United States Green Building Council and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification. Our staff decided to do it. Five years’ worth of work later, in 2013, we were LEED Gold Certified.
What else could we do? We didn’t have the words “fit green happy” yet, but we had started implementing many things that coincided with those words. We discussed how important it was for humans to be outside. Bruce Guillaume came across an article about a happy college, meaning the students were satisfied, and he thought it was a cool thing to be a happy college. Suddenly, it all fit together: our fit stuff, our green stuff, and now our happy stuff. Our attorney urged us to trademark the title, so we spent a few years working on that, obtaining the trademark at the end of 2017.
We spent time observing the evidence and developing each part of Fit.Green.Happy.®️. We now have a solid foundation to share with others.
Today, the Fit.Green.Happy.®️ work continues by incorporating programming throughout the Maryville College campus, including Camp 4, open trips, cooking demonstrations, and much more.
To be truthful, we never thought fitness or physical activity would become a vital component of our business. Fitness has just always been an undisputed part of our culture, not only because it keeps us in shape to do our job well, but also because we genuinely enjoy it. When groups began to have difficulty enjoying some of our more physically demanding tasks, it was time to open up the conversation. Physical fitness is intimidating. Or, at least, we’ve made it so until now. Fitness to us is enjoyable movement and no gym is required. It’s all about a more active life. Some days, a run and yoga are what our bodies ask us for. Other days, it might be enough to just park a little further from the door when grocery shopping. However we move, we can’t ignore how good exercise is for our mental and physical health.
Awareness of and attention to environmental sustainability has long been imperative to us. Hence, our commitments to reducing our environmental impact are earnest, notably bookmarked with our LEED Gold Certified headquarters. That we have a responsibility to both respect and protect the natural environment is so intuitive to us that it hardly seems necessary to address it explicitly. And yet, it bears repeating because our commitment to environmental stewardship not only directly affects our bottom line as a business, but our mission and principles also indisputably require it. We love the places where we work and play; that’s the easy part. When you love a place (or a person), then certain duties exist to ensure its care and keeping. That’s the hard part, but it’s a simple concept: We work outside. So, if we want to continue to work, we need outside to be there. And in order for outside to be there, we have to take care of it.
When outside, we move faster and play harder. The benefits that looking at trees through a window can provide has a major impact on our mental health. Nature immersion offers mood stabilization, returned focus and concentration time, and immune system benefits. With rates of depression and anxiety rising in our country, why aren’t we bottling this?! Or at least prescribing it? Click here to read more about the benefits of being in nature and how the Outdoors is Medicine.
Being active, being outside, and loving on our planet = happier people. Right? Well almost. We care a whole lot more about the actions we take to pursue a happier and more fulfilling life. What does this concept look like? It looks like taking moments to put your phone down and engage in real time, face-to-face conversations with those around you . . . like getting serious about sleep and doing routines at night to help support that . . . like making something tangible with your own two hands. This looks completely analog and completely 180 degrees from the direction it seems like we’re all headed now. Slowing down in our country doesn’t usually hold value. But when it comes to creating happier, longer lives . . . we can’t help but disagree.
- At least 3 hours of physical activity a week
- At least 3 hours of outdoor time a week
- Take on 1 green action in addition to recycling
- Pursue an intentional positive action that you will work on each week
Bruce Guillaume is a graduate of Maryville College with a B.A. in psychology. He continued his education at the University of Tennessee where he received his master’s in social work. He is also a member of the League of American Bicyclists, American Mountain Guide Association, and the Association for Experiential Education. He has done numerous bicycling trips including trips across TN, GA, NC, and AL, has led mountaineering trips to Mt Rainier and Mt Cotopoxi, and several human powered trips across Costa Rica. Bruce has also studied Isshin-ryu karate for over 35 years and holds the rank of 8th degree black belt.
–Information gathered from Bruce Guillaume’s Maryville College biography
Please enjoy the following video about Mountain Challenge and Fit.Green.Happy®️: