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The 30x30 Challenge brings the Penn community outdoors for 30 minutes a day over thirty days in April. 

Credit: Maya Pratt

Over 800 Penn faculty, staff, and students have committed to spending 30 minutes outside for the 30 days of April as part of the annual 30x30 Challenge.

In response to the pandemic, this year's challenge features recommendations for activities that can be performed socially distanced in nature. Participation also increased significantly from the typical 200-300 participants in the first 10 years of the challenge, which is hosted by Penn Sustainability and Penn Human Resources. This year, the challenge has an online version through the new wellness interface, Virgin Pulse, which allows for virtual tracking. Participants also have access to the new NatureRx at Penn, a  "prescription" for students to get outside that includes a map of green spaces near campus.   

Penn Sustainability Coordinator Elizabeth Main said the 30x30 Challenge began in 2012 to highlight the landscape ecology work that's done to keep campus beautiful and educate people about how to preserve its beauty. She said promoting the challenge was particularly important this year because COVID-19 is less transmissible outdoors.

Associate Director of the Master of Public Health Program Moriah Hall added that spending time in nature has significant public health benefits.

"An intervention that is free or low cost and can impact a large number of people is the gold standard for us," Hall said."That’s why I just value the idea of nature in a public health context so much, because it really gets at what we’re trying to do in public health, which is [to] serve as many people out there as possible and help people live as healthy as they can."

Penn Sustainability and Human Resources recommended outdoor activities for each week of the challenge. Week one suggestions included reading and eating outside, biking and walking somewhere new, and walking a dog. Inspired by recent flower blossoms and warmer weather, the second week's recommendations called for taking photos and using field guides to identify insect and plant species, as well as sketching or writing a poem.

Participants cited College Green, Locust Walk, city rooftops, the BioPond, and the Morris Arboretum as some of the best outdoor destinations to explore during the challenge on Penn's campus.

In prior years, Penn Sustainability and Human Resources have hosted at least two in-person events per challenge. Activities have included picnics on College Green, Schuylkill River trail walks, nature sketch events at the Bio Pond, full moon night hikes, and afternoon yoga.

Despite the absence of community events, Human Resources Senior Health and Wellness Specialist Chris Hyson said the 30x30 Challenge and NatureRx are crucial wellness initiatives at the University. She added that spending time in nature can reduce stress and anxiety, increase energy and immunity levels, and allow people to connect with the beauty around them. 

“In this past year of the pandemic, with more staff and faculty working from home, and attempting to further balance the demands of home and work lives, wellness probably seems more of a luxury than necessity,” Hyson said.

The use of the Virgin Pulse platform has also allowed Penn Sustainability and Human Resources to track and reward participation in the challenge. Participants who complete and log 25 of the 30 days can earn points in Be In the Know, an annual wellness campaign that converts credit for wellness activities into points, and "Pulse Cash," which can be redeemed for various rewards across campus.

The 30x30 Challenge also includes a social media competition, which encourages participants to share their outdoor experiences using the hashtags #Penn30x30Challenge and #NatureRxPenn. 

Last year’s co-winner Dawn Maglicco Deitch, the executive director of the Office of Government and Community Affairs, who is participating in the challenge again, has been posting snippets of the challenge on Instagram. 

Hyson said it is now more critical than ever to make personal health a top priority, particularly mental and emotional well-being.

"Both the 30x30 Challenge and NatureRx are valuable ways to accomplish this," Hyson said. "Spending time outdoors to watch the sunset, read a book, meditate, or simply just relax can provide us the opportunity to disconnect from technology, find calm, and rejuvenate in ways that might be different from other strategies we utilize."