Tennis anyone? How about Zumba class, several styles of yoga, spinning or TRX resistance training? Not your cup of tea? How about a complimentary body massage, acupuncture, chiropractic consults, individual nutrition counseling, Tai Chi, focused imagery mediation, Weight Watchers at Work or private wellness coaching?
Those are just a small sample of the classes and programs available to students, faculty and staff at Loyola Marymount University (LMU).
In two small offices on opposite ends of the campus, two LMU staffers battle the evils of sloth, junk food diets, stress and burnout among the university’s 9,000 students, faculty and administrators. It is their job to design programs, classes, events and services to push, nudge, entice and enlighten members of the LMU community into a more healthy approach to their lives.
Most people would assume that billboards and television screens plastered with young hard bodies running, jumping and cross-fitting their way through commercials 24 hours a day would make physical fitness a priority for today’s students.
Then most people would be wrong.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine, less than 50 percent of college students meet the recommended U. S. guidelines for physical activity. On the south end of the LMU campus, Jennifer Westendorf, the assistant director for Fitness and Wellness for Campus Recreation, is responsible for providing health and wellness programming and education for the entire campus. Her job is to get students involved in physical activity. She sees herself as part of the educational team at LMU that contributes to the education of the whole person.
“About 90 percent of my job,” said Westendorf, “is driven by providing recreational activities for students with opportunities that give them the tools to lead a healthy lifestyle throughout their lives. We’re promoting healthy living and providing skills that students can take with them when they leave the ‘bluff’.”
In addition to a full schedule of classes that are available at the campus’ state-of-the-art Burns Recreation Center, Westendorf and her staff provide workshops on how to eat healthy on campus, relieve stress and how to lead a balanced life.
The recreation center is a hub on campus where you will find everyone from members of the university’s administration to freshmen trying to negotiate their way through their first year of college.
“Group exercise classes are the most popular with the students,” Westendorf said. “This past fall we had over 11,780 attendees, which means that each of those attendees came to at least one class during the fall semester.”
In addition to yoga, Zumba and cycling classes, TRX resistance training is among the more popular. “Inspired by the Navy Seals, this workout utilizes your body weight with gravity as a means of resistance training,” said Westendorf. If students are looking for high intensity training in the least amount of time with the most impact, be sure to hit the Body Burn Circuit class.
LMU also offers “holistic health at work days,” when doctors, chiropractors and acupuncture specialists come to campus, offering paraffin hand massage sessions and, during finals, therapy dogs, who come to help students de-stress.
Marieclare Sia, the Human Resources Specialist in charge of wellness, oversees programs for LMU’s faculty and staff. She helps individual faculty and staff to improve their quality of life, but also works to improve the productivity of LMU as a whole.
“My job is driven by the need to address rising health care costs, reduce illness and absenteeism and improve employee productivity, coupled with trying to encourage employees to have a more balanced life,” said Sia.
The new generation of workers expects more from their employer-sponsored wellness programs. “There has been a shift in generations at LMU,” said Sia. “Some of the older folks, like tenured faculty, are set in their ways. Some feel that if they take time away for wellness, they are not working hard enough.”
Sia says that just the opposite is true. “If employees take time away for recreation – to re-set and re-center – then productivity increases and the ability to think clearly increases.” Sia remarked that this trend has been seen on Wall Street and Silicon Valley companies.
She said, “I have observed a new generation of employees who feel balance is key.”
On average 10 – 15 percent of employees participate in most wellness programs at U.S. corporations. At LMU, the employee participation rate is between 35 percent and 41 percent and these are very sophisticated consumers. “They Google reviews about the best exercises and diets,” said Sia, and, “the technology has to be available and transparency has to be there.”
In just the past three years, there has been modest, yet documented improvement in employee health. According to Kaiser Permanente, one of the university’s health providers, there has been a seven percent decrease in the number of employees with borderline high and high cholesterol, a four percent decrease in overweight and obese workers and a one percent decrease in employees who smoke.
Fred Puza, graduate communications and recruitment specialist in Academic Affairs, has participated in between 10 and 12 exercise and wellness programs offered at LMU. “It’s helped me make healthier choices and to stay healthy,” said Puza. “I rarely have sick days.”
He participated in Weight Watchers at Work, exercise classes, guided imagery meditation and stress reduction techniques that he now uses in his daily morning ritual.
As a result, Puza said, “Because LMU supports my goal of trying to be healthy, it makes me want to work harder because LMU has invested in me.”
Marki Hackett, program coordinator in the Center for Asian Business, has also found value in the programs. “I think it’s being healthy and keeping that focus that is positive for work and for your productivity.”
Both Sia and Westendorf say that they continue to explore digital and technological wellness support programs.
“Technology is here to stay and we are planning to move a lot of our programs to technology supported experiences,” said Sia. “We will be using technology with the apps that are available to help participants track themselves and their workouts. We have several customizable programs designed for individual needs and continue to research more ways to support the university’s needs.”