Cleveland University-Kansas City (CU-KC) has taken additional steps to promote wellness in 2015 with the addition of a new program that will improve employee health “bit by bit.” The campus has entered into an agreement with WellSteps, a company that promotes exercise programs designed to improve the current health of workers, while also lowering potential health risks. CU-KC has also provided employees with Fitbit activity monitors that log movement when worn. Users set up an account through the WellSteps web site, and their participation is tracked electronically by WellSteps. Employees can then review their progress at any time, and will earn points and prizes based on their wellness activity throughout the year.
The WellSteps program was chosen by the campus Wellness CREW (Clevelanders Reach for Excellence in Wellness.) The group was started in 2012 with a mission to build a culture that empowers individuals to take responsibility for achieving their personal best in health and wellness. The organization’s activities are aligned with the University’s overall mission of health promotion. Past initiatives by the CREW have included biometric screenings, balance and fitness assessments and culinary demonstrations for healthy nutrition.
Dr. Karen Doyle is the director of the Master of Science in Health Promotion (MSHP) program at CU-KC, and co-chair of the Wellness CREW. She became aware of WellSteps through their free monthly webinars and resources for professional development and MSHP curriculum. The founders, Dr. Steve Aldana, chief executive officer, and Dr. Troy Adams, chief operating officer, are experts in health promotion, so she felt comfortable with their methodology.
“Drs. Aldana and Adams are recognized experts in health promotion,” Doyle said. “I have listened to and used the WellSteps monthly free webinars for my professional development, and have incorporated many of their resources into Cleveland’s MSHP curriculum for years. My experiences with WellSteps have been positive and I have an appreciation for their work in the field of health promotion, as well as their excellent customer service.”
Sarah Shelnutt, a charter member of the Wellness CREW, said the new wellness program simply reinforces what the institution is all about.
“In order for CU-KC to live out its mission to be recognized and respected as a leader in health promotion, we must create a culture of wellness not only with students though their education, but also with employees,” Shelnutt said. “That’s why the Wellness CREW was created. Our mission is to shape our employee culture in a positive and healthy way.”
The FitBits were distributed in early February, and Shelnutt said staff participation in the WellSteps program was at 75 percent, substantially higher than previous campus wellness campaigns initiated by the CREW. Staff members have embraced the program, making better health a priority.
Benjamin Ford, chiropractic assistant in the Health Center, said the program is a way to enhance awareness of how one lives, and to recognize the impact of choices made each day.
“I chose to join the WellSteps program because it seemed like a really great motivator to be active and keep me accountable daily,” Ford said. “I was already changing my intake of specific items, but having to log my food and essentially keep a diary of the food I’m consuming makes me even more aware of what my body is taking in, compared to what I’m exerting daily.”
Ford said while the FitBit is ideal for checking progress, it can also be “kind of a tormentor.” While it offers positive results to those maintaining a solid wellness routine, it can also serve up guilt electronically to those who have not been as active, a feature that Ford finds beneficial.
Randell Vanderweide, senior financial aid representative, was seeking a way to make better health a priority in her life, and to decrease her chances for heart disease which runs in her family. Those goals were made easier by the WellSteps model because it allowed her to make changes and chart her efforts electronically, while also engaging co-workers in friendly competition. She has become “100x more active” since receiving her FitBit, and that increase in activity, combined with close monitoring of her intake, has also led to weight loss.
“Since I have a very sedentary work life and have always put my family life before my own needs, I knew I needed to make some significant changes to my lifestyle,” Vanderweide said.
“The FitBit has contributed significantly in helping me, because I am able to stay accountable to my daily activities. I love that we are able to encourage and challenge one another, and the online app that helps you keep track of your calories and water intake has really helped me as well.”
The same positive results have been experienced by other staff, including Marjorie Bradshaw, assistant to the president. While she never lacked the motivation to pursue a healthy lifestyle, she was unable to maintain a strict adherence to a routine. This program is different for her, and the results have been favorable.
“I’ve lost a significant amount of weight and have gained more muscle than I ever remember having,” Bradshaw said. “I sleep better, my concentration and energy levels have improved exponentially. I’ve gone from basically being a couch potato to craving my daily workout. The best part of it is that my kids are inspired by my success too, and have been incredibly supportive.”
The WellSteps program also has a function that allows participants to challenge others who are participating in the program both at Cleveland and other more distant locales. Ford has taken advantage of that feature to have some fun with his fitness.
“Joining this program has been amazing and it’s always fun to join the competitions with other people, even outside of Cleveland,” Ford said. “There have been times I’ve challenged people in Kansas, Missouri, Texas and Louisiana. It’s a great way to not only keep yourself accountable, but to inspire and motivate your friends and family.”
The majority of Clevelanders participating in the WellSteps program have enjoyed some measure of their own success, but they have also shared the successes of their colleagues. But a strange thing has happened at CU-KC. While the desire for self-improvement has grown, so too has the fire of competition. With the FitBit gathering data, and a monitoring system in place, the focus on fitness is working for individuals, but also as a group, as the former seems to motivate the latter.
“It’s turned exercise into a fun game,” Bradshaw said. “I love keeping an eye on my weekly progress and seeing how other folks are doing as well. There’s a friendly competitiveness that kicks in when I see somebody pass me in steps, and that inspires me to get up from my desk and TALK to a colleague rather than just shooting them an email or picking up the phone.”
At this point, it seems that WellSteps has been an overwhelming success at CU-KC. The rest of the year is likely to be filled with more pounds lost and better health found. It is affecting change on most of those taking part and changing the culture of the University. And with a program that acts as both motivator and instigator, competition will continue to fuel the success of those taking part.