Fitness focus of state health plan grant
(May 28, 2008)
When it comes to long-term health care, preventive medicine doesn’t come in a pill. Its dosage is in a daily walk, a bike ride, or a game of tennis. It’s going to a meeting on foot rather than by car.
A $100,000 grant from the North Carolina State Health Plan has already helped more than 125 East Carolina University and other state employees find ways to integrate physical activity into their lives, working with a team from ECU’s College of Health and Human Performance.
“We know exercise is good medicine,” said Mike McCammon, an ECU professor of exercise science, who is overseeing the pilot study. “But how do we get people to adopt and maintain exercise in their schedules? How can we get them from being less sedentary and more active?”
This is a question first asked by ECU’s Advisory Council Team for Wellness Education Leadership (ACT-WEL), with an aim to expand campus fitness and wellness programs. The grant started in February, and McCammon said there is room for another 100 participants, open to ECU faculty members, staff, retirees, and non-ECU state employees.
The aim of the grant is not just about getting employees to become more active, said McCammon. The bottom-line component, from an insurer’s perspective, is to promote the idea that an active lifestyle now will help prevent chronic health issues – and large medical bills – later.
“What we want to do is see how we can impact a large number of people with relatively little investment,” he said. “If you are diabetic, it can cost you and your insurer thousands of dollars a year.”
A new statewide wellness policy, announced in April by ECU Chancellor Steve Ballard, is inline with McCammon’s efforts. The policy encourages the development of workplace wellness programs that emphasize physical activity, healthy eating, tobacco cessation, and stress management. John M. Toller, ECU’s associate vice chancellor for human resources, was named ECU’s employee Wellness Leader.
I am committed to sustaining a strong and dynamic worksite wellness program for our employees,” Ballard said. “Thanks to all of our academic, clinical, and administrative contributors who have made our ACT-WEL program a reality and our university a leader in promoting healthy lifestyles.”
McCammon said that, while there are other contributors to healthiness, such as diet and weight loss, he said that physical activity is the key element to this study. Studies by McCammon and his colleagues in the College of Health and Human Performance show, even if weight loss doesn’t occur, that exercise has a positive effect on people’s health and well being.
“The glucose tests show that 7 days of exercise makes a person go from an insulin-resistant state to an insulin-sensitive state,” he said.
Study participants visit the FIT Lab at ECU to undergo an initial health assessment and to establish a health baseline. The assessment indicates whether participants are at-risk for stroke, diabetes, or heart disease. Each participant receives a pedometer and works with project coordinator Nancy Jo Hodges to develop a set of fitness goals over the course of the four-month program.
“You don’t have to go to a gym to exercise,” Hodges said. “You can ride a bike with your kids, or take a walk. What we’re striving for is to get people to feel like exercise is more of a habit,” she said. “If we can fit two days a week into their schedule, something they enjoy doing, it won’t feel like work.”
To help them achieve their fitness goals, program participants receive a free, four-month membership to a local fitness center: ViQuest, the Student Recreation Center or the Greenville Aquatics and Fitness Center. They are