By Jill Pease
Every weekday around 2:30 p.m., physical therapy department staff members Natacha Miller and Jacky Scott motivate each other to get out of their seats and take a 15- to 20-minute walk around campus, threading through wooded areas north and east of the HPNP Complex toward Beatty Tower. The benefits of these walks are more than just physical, Scott said. They are a chance to connect with a co-worker in a different way, and to come back to the office feeling recharged and better able to focus on work.
Daily 15-minutes walks and “walking meetings” are two of the healthful habits recommended by the College of Public Health and Health Professions’ new Promoting Happy, Healthy People, a collegewide, incentive-based wellness program. Launched this month, the program incorporates activities that encompass the eight dimensions of wellness endorsed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: emotional, environmental, financial, intellectual, occupational, physical, social and spiritual.
Director Tara Sabo-Attwood, Ph.D., an associate professor and chair of the department of environmental and global health, led the creation of Promoting Happy, Healthy People as a way to offer wellness services within the college with a focus on prevention.
“The goal is to help employees and students engage in activities or find resources that help people achieve everyday wellness, whether it’s managing stress and anxiety, increasing physical activity or improving mental health, all with a holistic approach,” she said.
In researching wellness programs, Sabo-Attwood found very little peer-reviewed research on campus wellness programs. Most of the current data come from corporate wellness programs, which informed Promoting Happy, Healthy People’s Wellness Workdays component.
More than 30 college faculty, staff and students participated in a pilot of Wellness Workdays this summer. Participants received a weekly checklist with suggestions to promote physical activity, mental health, environmental and social health, and nutrition. Example activities included performing light exercises at your desk, or “deskercise,” performing duties standing up for at least 30 minutes, meditating, journaling, performing an act of kindness, trying new recipes and cutting out fast food. Weekly group activities included a campus litter pick-up, doodle party and “eat the rainbow” potluck focused on colorful fruits and vegetables. Participants earned points toward prizes and a weekly leaderboard provided some friendly competition.
Scott, a marketing assistant in the department of physical therapy, joined the pilot with a goal of boosting her activity level during the workday. She appreciated that the checklist was a simple way to track her progress rather than downloading an app and inputting data. Since the pilot program, she’s been more conscious of increasing her water consumption, in addition to the daily walks with Miller.
“Staying a little more active during the day not only helps your health, it also affects your work in a positive way,” Scott said.
Nima Madani, a doctoral student in public health with a One Health concentration, signed up for the summer pilot to focus on mental and social health. His favorite activity was “never eat alone,” which encouraged participants to eat lunch with a friend or colleague away from their desks.
“Before this, I always ate lunch at my desk alone,” Madani said. “Now that I have more social contact, I feel more engaged, more connected and I’ve learned more about my lab mates. We’re still having conversations and having lunch together. Taking half an hour to an hour to refresh and focus on actual people instead of focusing on coming here, doing my job and going home, created more joy and less pressure in my life.”
Promoting Happy, Healthy People will continue to offer Wellness Workday challenges for PHHP faculty, staff and students during the fall, spring and summer semesters, beginning next month. In addition, the wellness program team, which includes Sabo-Attwood, Assistant Program Director Nick Green, Ph.D., as well as a taskforce members and ambassadors from across the college, are focusing on wellness resources aimed at graduate students. This fall they will survey PHHP Ph.D. students to better understand their stressors and what resources would best serve them.
Other research associated with the wellness program include projects focused on increasing youth and adolescent physical activity; the health effects of green spaces on hospital stays; reducing sedentary behavior in the workplace; and increasing stair usage. Students interested in contributing to research can learn more about the projects on the program’s website, wellness.phhp.ufl.edu.
“Research, leadership and culture are three really important pillars of this program,” Sabo-Attwood said. “Our long-term vision is to create a culture change around wellness. People often feel they are too busy to incorporate wellness activities into their days so trying to find ways to change that mindset is one of the biggest challenges. We would also like to be seen as leaders in the field of wellness research and it makes sense for that work to come out of a school of public health.”