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Fitness Goals Out of Shape?

How the School of Nursing Is Managing — With a Little Help From Their Friends

Posted: Jan. 23, 2017

Student doing yoga

Yoga is just one of the many healthy living
activities now provided at the School of Nursing

Coming off the holidays, chances are you’ve been bombarded with dozens of healthy living tips. You know the ones: Eat a healthy diet. Exercise regularly. Drink at least eight glasses of water a day. Get a good night’s sleep. And the list goes on.

All good advice, for sure, but often difficult to manage or sustain. It’s hard finding time to get to the gym or to cook healthy, low-calorie meals. It’s easy to forget the water drinking, and sleep eight hours? Not a chance when you’re kept up most of the night wondering how to put those other tips into practice.

But what if you had some help? What if you had a workplace that offered free exercise and meditation classes and provided resources and information to make it easier to adhere to healthy living tips?

Reaching out to the experts

The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing is shaping up into such a workplace by promoting and supporting healthy behaviors for all employees. The School recently joined forces with The University of Texas at Austin’s Human Resources HealthPoint Wellness Program and is participating in their Work-Life Balance and Wellness program.

The overall goal of the HealthPoint Wellness program is to enhance the health and well-being of faculty and staff by improving policies and the environment to make it easier to get and stay healthy on campus. But because UT Austin is one of the largest university campuses in the nation, with over 16,000 employees working in more than 200 different buildings, meeting the needs of everyone can be a challenge.

The HealthPoint Wellness program nonetheless manages to offer a variety of convenient healthy initiatives throughout the year, including onsite wellness screenings at which UT Austin faculty and staff can get heart health numbers (cholesterol, glucose, triglycerides) checked through a simple finger stick. The results are available within minutes, and participants meet virtually with a nurse practitioner to answer any questions and create a plan to improve health. More than 1,100 individuals participated last year.

The program also awards mini-grants to schools and colleges across campus to fund wellness initiatives. In 2015, the School's Center for Transdisciplinary Collaborative Research in Self-Management Science (TCRSS) conducted a wellness survey to gather feedback about which healthy living initiatives would meet the needs and interests of School of Nursing employees and students. The data gleaned not only identified population health risks and desired activities, it also provided a process to help create an ongoing strategic plan.

When asked about the survey results, TCRSS’s Jacki Hecht and Kelli Royse said that one of the most surprising findings was how unsatisfied people were with their current health behaviors and how much they wanted to find accessible solutions

“At least 59 percent of those who responded said they were unsatisfied or very unsatisfied with their physical activity engagement,” Jacki said. “One of the things we hope to accomplish is to encourage individuals to develop a healthy lifestyle for their own benefit that they can also share with others.”

Last year, in addition to determining which activities and resources would be optimal for faculty, students and staff, Jacki and Kelli applied for and received one of the HealthPoint mini-grants and received $1,500 to fund new initiatives for a variety of health concerns ranging from mental health to physical activity and to provide opportunities to incorporate wellness throughout the work day. The grant also paid for yoga mats and yoga and meditation DVDs that employees can check out for personal use.

“It’s been fun working with the School of Nursing,” said Claire Hahn, Work-Life Balance and Wellness manager. “It’s gratifying working with individuals dedicated to the health of their colleagues and the establishment of a culture of wellness in the workplace.”

Building on success

But Jacki and Kelli aren’t alone in their quest to ensure more and better healthy-living workplace initiatives.

The Counseling and Mental Health Center (CMHC) housed in UT Austin’s Student Affairs is another campus group offering free classes, such as mediation. Last semester Michael Andorka, CMHC staff psychologist, led a group of students, staff and faculty in weekly guided meditation sessions. “Meditation is a great way to learn how to be mindful and present in the moment, calming the mind and body,” Androka said.

The School of Nursing’s UT Medical Reserve Corps, which was launched a few years ago to organize and maintain volunteers to assist in public health emergencies and disaster preparedness drills on campus, is another group recognizing the benefit of healthy onsite activities. One of the things Li-Chen Lin and Shalonda Horton, assistant professors of clinical nursing and faculty sponsors of the Medical Reserve Corps, did after receiving a $15,000 Challenge Award from the National Association of County and City Health Officials to improve mental wellness in the community and increase access to mental health resources, was to launch free yoga and meditation classes.

“Participants reported significantly reduced stress levels after each session, and Dr. Horton and I enjoyed attending all the classes because they increased our own awareness of self-kindness and care,” Dr. Lin said. “In addition, we collaborated with Austin Travis County Integral Care to offer free mental health first aid trainings that show how to identify and respond to signs of mental illness and substance use disorders.”

Student doing yoga

School of Nursing Wellness
Committee members taking a brisk afternoon walk

But wait, that’s not all

To make sure that these efforts don’t sputter and fail like so many other good intentions, the School of Nursing created a Wellness Committee made up of faculty, students and staff. The committee will continue to build on the findings of the TCRSS survey to promote activities and initiatives that support health and wellness and recently hosted their first group walk around the UT Austin campus.

After witnessing the growing success of these healthy-living activities, Jacki and Kelli decided to include an environmental component and took part in the Office of Sustainability Green Program to assess the health of the School of Nursing itself. The program is a student-led, points-based certification process that empowers UT faculty and staff to make wise environmental changes in their workspace. The program is part of the Campus Environmental Center and seeks to advance UT Austin’s commitment to being stewards of the environment.

The program included a lengthy checklist consisting of categories such as transportation, wellness, energy and water, waste and recycling, purchasing, and innovation. Each category contained a list of sustainable changes to implement in daily activities, from posting information on campus recycling policies and energy saving tips to changing primary transportation methods from single-person cars to walking, biking or public transportation.

After the four-month-long program ended, the School’s Center for TCRSS had earned 84 points, achieving the Gold level of certification.

“In addition to encouraging a workplace that promotes healthy behaviors, we felt it was equally important to work on preserving our physical environment” Kelli said. “While we’re getting healthy in mind and body, we need to ensure the environment is healthy, too.”

Workplace wellness programs are considered one of the best ways to prevent and control non-communicable diseases and mental health disorders, according to a message being broadcast by health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Now the School of Nursing, in collaboration with groups across the UT Austin campus, is showing how that can be achieved — and enjoyed.

“At the School of Nursing, our goal is to educate tomorrow’s health care providers and arm them with knowledge to help individuals lead healthier and happier lives,” Alexa Stuifbergen, dean of the School of Nursing said, “By creating a healthy work — and learning — place, we’re literally showing our students the importance of taking care of themselves while they care for others. I’m proud of our faculty, staff, and students for starting and engaging in these activities and kicking off a healthy start to the new year.”

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