After months of working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, many UAB employees now find themselves back in the office. But just because you work behind a desk doesn’t mean you need to be sedentary.
The latest episode of the Population Health Plug-in podcast from the School of Public Health featured UAB-specific tips on increasing activity levels from three experts — physical activity epidemiologist and ultra-runner Olivia Affuso, Ph.D., UAB Employee Wellness Manager Riley Thornton and the UAB Recreation Center’s Coordinator of Fitness Pedro Magalhaes.
Along with excerpts from that discussion (listen to the full podcast here), we polled two others for their thoughts: Kristi Menear, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Human Studies at the School of Education and chair of the school’s wellness committee, and Kelly Berg, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition Sciences and chair of the wellness committee in the School of Health Professions.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults get 150 minutes of physical activity each week. This can be daunting, notes Elena Kidd, Population Health Plug-in host and program manager in the Office of Public Health Practice. So what are some ways to get started?
“Time is really a common barrier that many of our employees face — or more specifically, lack thereof,” said Thornton, Employee Wellness manager. “I generally encourage employees to start small by getting maybe 10 to 15 minutes of activity at a time perhaps a couple times a day.” That could be “walking around your building on a nice day, walking to get lunch or walking to your car instead of taking the shuttle,” she said.
As a personal trainer, URec’s Magalhaes recommends that time-crunched clients tackle that 150-minute recommendation in manageable chunks. “I break it down as five days a week, 30 minutes a day,” he said. “And you don’t even have to get those 30 minutes in straight. If you have a dog, walk your dog for 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes in the afternoon and 10 minutes in the evening — that’s your 30 minutes right there.”
Gather a crew
“It’s far easier to engage in activities when you have someone to go along with you,” epidemiologist Affuso said. “One thing an individual might do is go and find someone else in their department or within their school to go for a quick walk around the Campus Green. Some of my research shows that the networks of individuals we have to draw from can include our co-workers or students or just anyone in our more immediate environment.”
free for seven days, a benefit open throughout the year to all UAB employees who have not previously been members. This month there is an extra incentive: As part of the Rec Center's second annual Employee Wellness Appreciation Month, employees have free access each Thursday in June.What if you don’t know any exercise-minded colleagues? You can try out a group fitness class at the Rec Center, “where people have a common goal and are doing the same exercises,” Magalhaes said. All group fitness classes at the Rec Center are free to members, he notes (with the exception of the F45 class). Not yet a member? You can check out all the offerings
The wellness committees at both the School of Education and School of Health Professions “have walking groups and a general group of people that [employees] can count on if they are wanting to go for a midday walk,” Thornton said. “Or maybe shift some meetings into a walking meeting.” (See Menear’s advice on starting a walking meeting below.)
“We have a Walk, Jog and Run group that meets every Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. that invites students, staff and faculty to either walk, jog or run together around campus for one hour,” Berg said. The group meets at the Ninth Avenue entrance to the Health Professions building; email email@example.com or text 256-996-7456 with questions.
“You can create a culture of taking group walking breaks in your department or unit by announcing to the unit the days and times across a week that employees can meet in a common area to walk one of the UAB walking trails together,” Menear added.
Plan for success
Another benefit of “having a group or a community to engage with” is that “you can have that built-in accountability for each other,” Affuso said. “It’s amazing when you have a goal, and you have support, how you can start small and build up over time. For instance, I have been running every day for the last 1,300-plus days. There are many days that I only run 1 mile — so I have a minimum — and [that] takes me about 10 minutes. I know that I don’t want to break that chain, and I also have people who are asking me about it: ‘Did you run today?’ And of course, you know I don’t want to let them down and I don’t want to let myself down. So, I just try to maintain that one small habit.”
Even as an individual, “this could look like sending an Outlook invitation to yourself for 10 to 15 minutes of activity in between meetings,” Thornton said, “whether that’s standing at your desk or taking a lap around your office floor, walking around your building or doing some standing desk stretches. Personally, I have found that, on days I bring my tennis shoes to the office, I’m more likely to get out for a lunchtime stroll.”
3 new walking trails showcase UAB’s outdoor public art collection Walk the trails to see more than 35 sculptures or statues, many from renowned artists. The trails can be viewed on a specialized Google Map, created by the UAB Reporter for this story.
It is also important to find a route that works for you. “Employees have access across the university and the hospital campuses to more than eight walking trails at varying distances,” Thornton said. “You can access and download those maps online [with distance information] by visiting uab.edu/walk.”
These include indoor options in the Education and Engineering Complex (more on this below) and in UAB Medicine hospital facilities for times when the weather is not conducive to walking outside. Signs are posted at intervals on the UAB Medicine trails to guide walkers and will be posted soon for the indoor trails in the Education and Engineering Complex.
“Employee Wellness does a great job at advertising the walking paths on campus,” Berg said. “Our SHP Instagram and Facebook accounts share posts and information on these to promote walking before, during and after the workday.”
For those interested in going farther afield and exploring Birmingham’s history, the School of Health Professions’ wellness and diversity, equity and inclusion committees created seven routes that visit notable murals and landmarks in the Civil Rights District, Railroad Park area and more.
Menear started leading walking meetings at the School of Education in fall 2019. These are small-group meetings, she explained — “one-on-ones or up to a maximum of four people, so the group stays together and can make eye contact.”
The School of Education’s wellness committee mapped out indoor and outdoor walking trails in its new home in the Education and Engineering Complex, so there are options for nice weather and for steamy or stormy days as well. “Where we walk is personal preference each time and depends on factors such as attire, shoes, weather, need for confidentiality and how long the meeting will last,” Menear said.
Here’s Menear’s advice for anyone looking to start a walking meeting:
Plan ahead. “Discuss ‘walking meeting’ when the location of the meeting is being determined. That way, everyone is prepared — bringing their walking shoes, for instance.”
Will it work on the go? “Walking meetings work best when the purpose of the meeting is discussion and people will not need to use electronic devices or read paper during the meetings.”
Need new ideas? Go for a walk. “We have found that the movement, change of scenery and level of engagement during the walking meetings all lead to a lot of idea generation … [and] “be prepared to take notes during the meeting, which can be done on a smartphone or small paper notebook.”
Give it a try. “Try a spontaneous walking meeting when you stop to chat with someone you just ran into. Walk for five minutes together and catch up with each other while you are walking.”
Set a goal. Keep the practice going by “setting a goal for yourself to have a minimum number of walking meetings over a given period of time.”