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Updated 10:00 AM November 7, 2005
 

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Creating a healthy community at the U.

Members of the University community will be encouraged in February to join together to improve their level of physical activity as part of the Michigan Healthy Community Initiative (MHCI).
A physical activity program similar to one held last spring in the U-M Health System will be launched in February. The Active U! fitness challenge will encourage individuals and units from across campus to engage in some form of physical activity as part of the Michigan Healthy Community Initiative. (Photos courtesy MWorks And MFit)

An eight-week physical fitness program dubbed Active U! will offer incentives for units to take one another on in a friendly competition in which ultimately everyone will be a winner, says Laurita Thomas, associate vice president for human resources.

"Our goal is to foster a healthier workplace by encouraging employees to start down a road to even better fitness," Thomas says. "In addition to the short-term goal of improving health during the challenge, our hope is that people across the University will build healthy habits that continue long after the competition is over."

The challenge is the first of what is expected to be a number of programs to result from the broader presidential initiative on health. In her 2004 University address, President Mary Sue Coleman announced that U-M, with its outstanding research community and top-rated health care facility, is poised to be a leader in promoting health and well being in the University community and beyond. To that end, Coleman established the MHCI, an ambitious collaborative effort to fashion a prototype program that will promote health, improve health care delivery and define optimal insurance coverage for individuals and families.

"With our top-ranked hospital, health care providers and insurance company, and some of the nation's leading health policy experts on our faculty, the University of Michigan is uniquely qualified to use its intellectual resources to help the nation address the growing health-care crisis," Coleman says. "The benefits of such an initiative can be far reaching, including improved quality of life for our employees and their families, reduced health care costs and disability, improved retention of faculty and staff, and more."

Three priority areas will be addressed this year: leadership and community engagement, the Active U! physical activity for life program, and enhanced ergonomics activities.

Leadership and community engagement efforts will include management education and training, enhanced Web site resource information, a faculty and staff interest survey to be used in future program planning, and the identification of wellness ambassadors at the work unit level to assist with communication and participation.

The first initiative to roll out will be Active U!, a program designed to encourage physical activity for life through a fun, incentive program.

"The Active U! challenge for the entire campus is modeled after a successful event held last year in the U-M Health System (UMHS), as well as other state and national models," says LaVaughn Palma-Davis, senior director of University health and well-being initiatives.

Palma-Davis was asked to take on this new campus-wide role because of her experience as the administrative director for the UMHS Occupational Health and Health Promotion Services. The Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services recently recognized one of these services, MFit, with a national Innovation in Prevention Award.

Last year, more than 2,000 UMHS employees on some 156 teams accumulated 3.5 million exercise minutes and generated more than $10,000 for charity in an
8-week event.

The Active U! program to begin in February will include a wide variety of physical activities. Individuals and teams will earn points, which eventually could result in teams, schools and colleges winning larger awards and being able to choose a favorite charity to receive a cash donation.

"Our interest is to create a healthy workplace culture which helps individuals build physical activity into their daily lives," Palma-Davis says.

A Web site will allow participants to log their personal goals and keep track of physical activity, as well as weight, body mass index and other measures of fitness success. The site also will offer health information and will point to various resources on campus available to help with healthy eating, exercise, tobacco cessation and other services to enhance overall well being.

Weekly e-mails to participants of the Active U! challenge will provide motivation, education on various health topics and information on other programs. Group walks both in and out of doors also will be organized, and staff will be available to consult with participants who have questions or concerns.

For more information on MHCI and Active U! program, go to: http://www.Mhealthy.umich.edu. In January, those interested in signing up for the physical challenge will be able to do so on the site. The Record also will provide updates on enrollment and other Active U! information.

Why become an ActiveU!?

• The Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP) reports that as average daily miles traveled on foot go up, the percentage that people are overweight goes down. The STPP—a nationwide coalition promoting safer communities and smarter transportation choices to benefit the economy, environment and public health—found that an increase of only 1/4 mile on average during the day makes a difference in weight reduction.

• Heavy smokers (more than 15 cigarettes per day) can reduce their risk of lung cancer if they decrease smoking by 50 percent, according to a study in the Sept. 28 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

• Consuming a diet high in fruits and vegetables is associated with lower risks for numerous chronic diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular disease.

• In a 2001 study, parents and children who were encouraged to increase their fruit and vegetable consumption had significantly greater decreases in weight than those encouraged to decrease their intake of high-fat and high-sugar foods.

• Steelcase Inc., a furniture maker considered one of the 100 best places to work by Fortune Magazine, experienced significant declines in on-the-job injury—as much as 50 percent in one department—only three months after beginning an ergonomics program that involved 20 minutes of stretching to help employees warm up before starting repetitive work. Bob Page, manager of employee wellness, reported in a 1998 Business & Health magazine article that "workers told (management) their muscles ached less, they felt better physically and they were sleeping better at night" as a result of the program.

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