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Lee Cohen, dean of the School of Liberal Arts, uses an adjustable desk so he can alternate sitting and standing as he works. Changing positions can help reduce the sedentary nature of many jobs.
By Michaela Gibson Morris
A big chunk of waking hours is committed to work; building a healthy lifestyle can’t wait until the quitting bell rings.
For many people in sedentary jobs, making work healthier means looking for little opportunities to add movement to their day. Lack of physical activity increases the risk for obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
“The body likes to move,” said Tracy Stebbins, director of the NMMC Wellness Center in West Point. “When it doesn’t move, that’s when you get a lot of repercussions.”
Healthier workplaces benefits both individuals and businesses.
“Studies show if you are physically well, you’re more likely to stay engaged and perform better,” said Andrea Jekabsons, University of Mississippi assistant director of employment, professional development and engagement. “It’s not a selfish thing to take care of yourself.”
In late July, Ole Miss was recognized for the second year in a row as one of Mississippi’s Healthiest Places to Work by the Mississippi Business Journal, the Mississippi Business Group on Health and the Mississippi State Department of Health.
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Ole Miss School of Liberal Arts co-workers Carmen Riggan, top, Joy Rowsey, right, and Gabby Coggin, left, take advantage of a circuit class during their lunch break. Ole Miss was recently recognized among the healthiest places to work in the state by the Mississippi Business Journal.
Creating healthier workplaces doesn’t mean offices need to look like gyms. Taking more steps, drinking water instead of soft drinks or trading a candy bar for a break-time snack can make a difference physically and mentally.
“Any decision you make throughout the day will add up,” Stebbins said. “Take the opportunity to get your body and mind out of fixed, rigid positions.”
To create a healthier campus, Ole Miss created a multi-year plan for its RebelWell wellness program.
“The university has put together lots of wonderful programs,” said Lee Cohen, dean of the School of Liberal Arts. “It’s become part of the culture.”
Some of the activities get incorporated into the work day. Employees can take breaks twice a day to take a walk or a short bike ride. Many faculty and staff members have organized walking and running meetings, encouraging students and colleagues to add physical activity as they collaborate.
Bikes were added to the campus fleet so staff could use pedal power to make deliveries around campus. Hydration stations were added to encourage more water consumption. Cohen and several others in the College of Liberal Arts have adjustable desks, allowing them to work part of the day standing up and part of the day sitting.
“For a little money, you can impact productivity and morale,” Cohen said. “It seems like a good investment.”
Other initiatives encouraged more robust physical activity outside of the work day. The Turner Center, the on-campus fitness facility, has made classes available for faculty or staff at convenient times, particularly lunch and end of the day.
Ole Miss faculty and staff say the wellness program has been successful in creating a healthier culture for 2,900 employed by the university because people throughout the organization have taken ownership.
Top university leaders, including Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter, have stepped up – literally.
“When you have your leaders serving as role models, it speaks volumes,” Jekabsons said.
Each department has a wellness champion who shares information and encourages colleagues to add more movement to their days and make healthier choices. Some groups have jumped into lunch-time fitness classes. Others have started walking after work.
“The focus is on being well-rounded,” said Carmen Riggan, who volunteered to be the College of Liberal Arts wellness champion. “It can certainly bring the group together.”
One of Riggan’s colleagues was able to lose her pregnancy weight and several dress sizes with the help of RebelWell programs.
“When we started, she couldn’t run for 30 seconds,” Riggan said. “Now she’s run a 5K.”
At Ole Miss, wellness programs have received a jump start in the form of $575,000 in wellness grants from the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation. The grants provided equipment, supplies, promotional items, nutrition counseling and training on campus, and funded programs off campus for school-age children and teachers off campus.
But building a wellness infrastructure doesn’t require a big investment, Jekabsons said. Simple policies can make room for fitness without increasing costs. Ole Miss instituted flexible work schedules running from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. to make it easier for faculty and staff to fit in workouts before or after work.
“I can come in at 8:30 a.m.,” Jekabsons said, making time for a run before work and still getting home to care for family.