Success Stories > University of Alberta: A Diverse Activity Menu
Describing the workplace physical activity program at the University of Alberta is like photographing an amoeba. Just when you think you’ve got the whole picture, something new takes shape.
With 13,000 employees in diverse departments, including hundreds far removed from Edmonton, it’s no surprise that the university’s physical activity program is both diverse and evolving. Called “Active Living for U,” the program is all linked by a virtual wellness office.
“Our overall goal, both for individuals and the organization, is to support people in making healthy choices,” says Melanie Goroniuk, manager of Health Promotion and WorkLife Services (HPaWS). “We do our best to make the healthy choice the easy choice. Where people have decided they’re interested in getting more active or pursuing healthier choices, our programs are designed to support that through ready access to information, tools and incentives.”
U of A in Brief
Size: 13,000 employees
Challenges: Scattered locations, diversity, stress, odd hours
Location: Main campus and several other sites in Edmonton, plus a campus in Camrose and offices in Calgary and Vancouver
Located within Human Resource Services, HPaWS coordinates an entire menu of programs to offer something for everyone. Program evaluations show that participants are impressed with the wealth and calibre of programs. “The menu approach is working,” Melanie says.
“A lot of our programs are driven by demand,” says Sarah Flower, program consultant. “People will take part in a session on one topic area and bring something else to our attention. It’s a huge success when they feel comfortable enough to do that.”
Many of the activities have unique histories. U of A on the Move, for example, grew out of a lecture sponsored by the Faculty of Agriculture, Forestry and Home Economics for Reunion Weekend in 2003. Requests for a weight-reduction program prompted the university to bring in 12 Weeks to Wellness, a certified program that focuses on behavioural change to support physical fitness, weight loss and stress reduction through active living, communication and education, and personal responsibility.
“We had reservations about focusing too much on weight,” Sarah says, “so we looked for a program that incorporates physical and mental wellness.”
Looking ahead, the team hopes to offer a program of incentives and recognition for physical activity and making positive lifestyle changes. Besides encouraging healthy habits, such a program could prompt more accurate tracking of activity, Melanie says. “Generally, people won’t bother reporting their activity unless they get something out of it.”
All HPaWS initiatives share an overall aim of holistic wellness, Melanie adds. “Our big concern is providing tools and resources so people can bring the best of themselves to work each day, and then assist them to be present and comfortable while they’re here.”
Staying Well at the University of Alberta - A Summary of Initiatives
The Summit Program: This program encourages staff to join Health Canada’s Stairway to Health initiative and set stair-climbing goals geared to their fitness levels. Some may set a goal of climbing the Empire State Building, while others shoot for the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Participants are automatically entered in a quarterly U of A prize draw.
Free and low-cost fitness: Staff can use the campus fitness centre at no cost and take fitness classes at a nominal fee. Many are able to use flex time to attend.
12 Weeks to Wellness: Holistic lifestyle coaching for employees and families, offered free as part of the Employee and Family Assistance Program. Participants can choose to meet with a group or work online. The self-directed program includes a workbook, a 21-day action planner and a stress map plus three hours of telephone or e-mail life coaching and support. Classes run four times a year and online programs can begin any time.
Health appraisal: Employees can take online health appraisals.
Office Yoga: Instructions for simple routines are available on the Active Living for U website and instructors are available to help groups get started.
Active Living for Work Groups: Many work groups include people who are physically active together, perhaps taking informal walks, playing pick-up disk golf or engaging in a fierce game of racquetball. Often it takes a champion to spark greater involvement. In some cases, existing committees, including health & safety or social committees are filling that role. Champions are encouraged to use Health Canada’s VITALITY Program, which suggests activities and tools for motivating co-workers.
Adopt-a-Flower-Bed: An individual or group takes full or partial responsibility for specific campus flower beds. Adopted beds in this popular program can be nominated for excellence in artistic design and appearance. The winner receives a gift certificate as well as a profile in the WorkLife website.
Corporate Challenge: U of A teams are enthusiastic participants in this Olympic-style event, which pits employees from Edmonton region businesses in numerous contests for fun and fitness. Begun in 1992, the Edmonton and Area Games are now among the largest amateur sporting events in Canada.
Dragon Boat: The university’s first ever dragon boat team, the Dragon Ladies, took bronze in Edmonton’s annual Dragon Boat Festival, spurring enthusiasm for future participation. Dragon Boating offers invaluable opportunities to work as teams, based not on individual effort so much as the power of the collective stroke in perfect unison.
Mapped walking or running routes: Maps showing numerous indoor and outdoor walking and running routes of varying distances are available both online and in hard copy. Everyone buying a pedometer on campus receives the maps, which are also available at the campus fitness centre, Student Health Services Pharmacy or Health Promotion & WorkLife Services.
Walking clubs: Work groups are invited to start walking clubs. Some join U of A on the Move (see next). During summer months there’s also a central drop-in club.
U of A on the Move: Participants use pedometers to count and record their steps. Pedometers are available for sale in the Health Promotions and WorkLife Services office and in the campus bookstore. (These pedometers count steps, which campus health promoters consider more accurate than counters that attempt to measure distance, since strides change throughout the day.) Each pedometer sold comes with campus walking maps.