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Employees and faculty working out and shaping up

UP Wellness program helps UP staff work for holistic health

By Kathryn Walters Staff Writer
On November 16, 2011

Michael Walsh, director of Residence Life, loves a bit of friendly competition. He brings this spirited attitude to Howard Hall, where he works out during the week. Now, Walsh has another reason to work out even harder.

Along with many other UP faculty and staff members, Walsh is a participant in the new UP Wellness program, which was created by Human Resources. UP Wellness seeks to educate, engage and inspire faculty and staff to take an active part in their health

The program has several components, the most prevalent of which is called Thrive Across America, which is an online fitness competition among UP employees. Faculty and staff can form their own teams online, make up fun team names such as "Exercising the Inner Curmudgeon" and "Business as Usual," upload photos and clock in the amount of time they exercise per day.

As of Nov. 16, 225 UP employees are on a team, and 194 are actively working out. All in all there are 29 teams.

With the rest of the Residence Life staff, Walsh is on a team called "Trimnastics," a name inspired by 1950s fitness guru Jack Lalanne, who coined the term. Walsh has noticed a huge increase in the amount of faculty and staff working out throughout the day.

"It's kind of like watching intramurals," he said. "We all get competitive."

Part of the appeal of Thrive Across America is that it gets faculty and staff to communicate about their health habits to their team members and support each other.

"It's a way to open up a dialogue," German professor Laura McLary said. "Health care is all about prevention, to prevent problems that are caused from not exercising."

McLary is the leader of a faculty team called "Exercising the Inner Curmudgeon." She said their team name was inspired by the misconception that university professors can be grumpy and be glued to their office chairs.

While she exercises regularly, McLary said Thrive Across America allows everyone to exercise in his or her own way.

"It's been interesting to make visible what they're doing," she said. "They can feel confident that they are doing something."

Now that more employees are working out at UP, Walsh said he has more fun at the gym.

"People are yelling across Howard Hall at each other," he said. "It's a lot of banter. When you get everyone fired up it gets really fun."

Bryn Sopko, director of Human Resources said the program encourages employees to bond and support each other in their exercise routines.

"It makes all the difference," she said. "It's that peer support that makes you go out when it's 47 degrees and raining sideways to exercise."

UP Wellness takes its slogan, "Wellness, it's personal," above and beyond exercise. The program also includes an online confidential health assessment that employees can take via Kaiser Permanente to assess their health. The assessment customizes health strategies for each person according to his or her personal needs. As of Nov. 16, 124 UP employees had taken the health assessment test.

"If they don't get honest feedback, they can't help themselves make good decisions," Sopko said.

As an incentive, the first 100 employees to take the health assessment received free smart pedometers. Director of Student Activities Jeromy Koffler was one of the 100 to receive a pedometer, and said it helps him to keep his fitness on his mind.

"It's a neat program because it gets people thinking more about health and wellness," Koffler said.

Instead of giving the participants money or gift cards for participating, Sopko wanted to give an incentive that would support the goal of the program.

"From our perspective, we don't want to give money for this," Sopko said. "We wanted to give something that fed right back to their commitment to do something about their health."

Another component of the UP Wellness program consists of brown bag lunch sessions, where a monthly speaker will address a different facet of health, such as stress management, healthy eating and financial planning.

"It's nice that the University has provided support for all its faculty to focus on health and wellness," Koffler said. "The goal is consistency. It's reinforcing that we want to be more healthy."

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