The Johns Hopkins Gazette: April 17, 2000
April 17, 2000
VOL. 29, NO. 32


Tired? Stressed? Jump on the Workday Wellness Wagon

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette
Johns Hopkins Gazette Online Edition

Make sure you're breathing," says fitness instructor Sharon Parker. She scans a sea of legs that lower and rise in unison inside the bright confines of Homewood's Glass Pavilion on a Tuesday afternoon. Group members lie flat on their backs, some on towels, others on mats. "Please don't hold your breath. We don't want anybody passing out on us."

The majority of the 22 participants find a second to smile and break from their concentration. There is no rest for the weary, however, as many quickly revert to a straight-faced tenor with Parker's next verbal direction: "OK. Let's do five more. Five ... four .. three. Remember, the movement is all in the hips."

The session is more than halfway finished, and Parker, a personal fitness trainer with the local company Absolute Fitness, moves the class quickly from one exercise to another, trying to isolate a host of body parts. Next, still on their backs, the participants pick up dumbbells lying at their sides and are told to bring their arms together like they "are hugging something." Once again, Parker counts off the repetitions.

The people gathered are university staff and faculty members who use their lunch breaks every Tuesday and Thursday to spend 45 minutes with Parker in an effort to help tone and condition their muscles. This midday workout meets for an eight-week period and is offered by Occupational Health Services as part of the department's six-year-old wellness program, which includes an array of physical fitness and stress-management activities geared to staff and faculty. The department is sponsored by the Office of Benefits Administration.

The current wellness program includes Parker's fitness class, a yoga class, massage therapy sessions and a soon-to-be-offered Weight Watchers at Work course. Similarly, the White Athletic Center on the Homewood campus also hosts an assortment of fitness activities open to staff and faculty. Combined, the two departments have provided a full menu of convenient wellness activities to help keep people fit, trim and relaxed.

Debby Mills, Carol Schopman and Fran Humphrey of Occupational Health Services have developed an array of programs. Others are offered by Homewood's Department of Athletics and Recreation.

Brittany Anuszkiewicz, now enrolled in her second eight-week session with Parker, says she joined the fitness class to get out from under the shade of her computer and do something good for herself.

"It's kind of hard sitting at a desk for eight hours straight," says Anuszkiewicz, administrative secretary at the Institute for Policy Studies. "I did take some walks here and there, but I just don't think I had the dedication to keep that up. I needed something to motivate me."

Anuszkiewicz says she wanted to establish a fitness routine and, with Parker's help, has done that. What she likes most, she says, is Parker's positive reinforcement and work-at-your-own-pace approach. It's the perfect lunchtime workout, Anuszkiewicz says, and afterward she has a whole new outlook on the day.

"I feel relaxed. I feel confident. I feel stronger and overall just energized," Anuszkiewicz says. "I also find that now I am doing a lot more exercising on my own. When I'm not here, for example, I might walk two miles around the track."

Anuszkiewicz's commitment to exercise and her pronouncement of its benefits are just the words that Fran Humphrey, manager of Occupational Health Services, likes to hear. Humphrey, a certified nurse practitioner, is a firm believer in the importance of physical fitness to the well-being of both mind and body.

Her department offers "a coordinated team commitment" to health and wellness and is staffed by Carol Schopman, occupational health nurse, and Debby Mills, administrative assistant.

Since the office's inception, Occupational Health Services has offered what it calls wellness activities for the faculty and staff of the Homewood campus. These activities, Humphrey says, go "above and beyond" the department's main responsibilities, which include providing workers' compensation intake and referral, health assessment and referral, medical surveillance, annual flu vaccinations and CPR classes.

The wellness program has evolved over time to better suit the faculty and staff population, according to Humphrey. The classes are offered either at lunchtime or after 5:30 p.m. and require only a reasonable fee. (The cost of the eight-week fitness class is $20 for one class per week and $40 for two.) Each midday class also is designed so that staff and faculty do not cut into their work time. For instance, Parker's fitness class begins at 12:15 p.m., and along with the regular routine she offers lower impact variations of each exercise so people can keep their heart rates down. The varying impact also allows people to participate at any level.

Some activities you hardly participate in at all.

One very popular wellness activity at the moment is the seated massage therapy offered Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Occupational Health Services in the Wyman Park Building (also available on the JHMI campus, on Wednesdays from noon to 2 p.m in the Houck Building.) For 15 minutes (and $8), a person is treated to a massage--accompanied by soothing music and aromatherapy--from a certified massage therapist. Humphrey says the response has been "overwhelming," and appointments are booked for several weeks in advance. Likewise, she says, the response has been equally enthusiastic to the yoga and fitness classes. The Weight Watchers at Work class, available at a cost of $70 for the 10-week session, will begin April 19, and Humphrey expects that class also to be well-attended.

Sharon Parker leads a noontime fitness class in Levering's Glass Pavilion.
"This is all great stuff. It's a proactive approach to wellness," Humphrey says. "If you have people who are physically fit and in shape, they may recover more quickly from injuries, or it might lessen their risks of having injuries in the first place. Being fit can also help with decreasing the cost of benefit dollars. A person taking better care of her or himself can decrease the risk of developing diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and other chronic illnesses that can tap into benefit dollars."

Humphrey adds that the classes also provide a method to deal with workday stress.

"Most of our hours are spent at work. So what better place to have these types of activities but at the work site? It only makes good sense," Humphrey says. "Most people, when they get home, start their second life and may not have time for these activities, whereas at work, an hour at lunchtime can be used for wellness or fitness activities." Staff and faculty also can choose to sign up for the fitness program at the White Athletic Center, which is offered by the Department of Athletics and Recreation and co-sponsored by the Student Activities Office. The facility hosts 10 classes each week, including step and tone, muscle conditioning, yoga and aqua aerobics. All classes, which are also open to students, are held in the dance room of the Athletic Center except for aqua classes, which meet in the pool. Like those in the wellness program, all instructors at the Athletic Center are certified professionals.

The fee for faculty, staff and their spouses is $55 for a seven-week session, during which they can participate in an unlimited number of classes. Sessions run the entire year.

Amy Brooks, group fitness coordinator at the Athletic Center, says the program is meant to provide both flexibility and variety.

"If someone has a schedule conflict with one class, he or she can come to the next one, either later that day or later that week--whatever works for him or her," Brooks says. "There is no sign-up for specific classes; they can just show up at whatever ones they want."

Brooks says that during her four years at Hopkins she has watched some faculty and staff members come to the classes religiously. The results of their labor, Brooks says, is what keeps them coming back, and she delights in the changed attitudes that exercise causes.

"It's really neat to see changes in a person," Brooks says. "It doesn't take much, just a few times each week."

Both Brooks and Humphrey say the classes have been traditionally underrepresented by men, a trend they hope to turn around.

"We understand that many men are using the weight room in the Athletic Center or running on the track, which is great," Humphrey says, "but we strongly encourage them to come down and see what these classes are all about."

For more information about Occupational Health Services' wellness program, including massage appointments in East Baltimore, call 410-516-0450. For a schedule of Athletic Center classes, call 410-516-7490.