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When Beth Heuer was asked to implement an integrated wellness program for University of Wisconsin Oshkosh faculty and staff, she knew she had a real workout ahead of her. Fortunately, the director of human resources was able to assemble a group of employees to put the fledgling project on the fast track.

Since its launch three years ago, Healthy Titans 2010 has become a strong, successful program, with 500 to 600 of the University’s 1,600 employees participating in one aspect or another.

To pump life into the program, Heuer brought individuals from across campus — from admissions and administrative services to Polk Library and the telecommunications department — together with representatives of Aurora Health Care and ThedaCare to determine priorities.

Healthy Titans is a component of the University’s key operational plan. It is the first comprehensive program of its type in the University of Wisconsin System and piggybacks on the principles of Healthy People 2010, a national health initiative that challenges individuals, communities and professions to take specific steps to ensure good health and a long life.

Healthy Titans benefits the University as well as its individual employees. Healthier employees have fewer medical expenses.

“There are three major health issues that we have as a campus: cardiovascular disease, stress management and weight management. So our primary goals are to keep people healthy or offer a means to help them improve,” Heuer said.

Healthy Titan’s “building blocks to health and wellness” include a variety of activities, including individual health risk assessments; employee wellness intervention programs; and diet, exercise and fitness programs. Learning sessions have focused on stress management as well as nutrition and diet. In addition, the University has worked with its primary food vendor, Sodexho, to stock vending machines throughout campus with healthier alternatives, such as fresh fruit.

Most of the physical fitness activities are held in Albee Hall, 776 Algoma Blvd., which comes equipped with a pool and newly renovated workout area. For a fee, employees can join classes, such as yoga or water aerobics, or work out independently in the Albee Fitness Center.

Faculty and staff also can meet one-on-one with student trainers.

Students as teachers

Prior to Healthy Titans’ inception, physical health efforts at UW Oshkosh were fragmented.

“There was a fitness program before, but when Healthy Titans came around, it gave it a shot in the arm — probably doubled participation,” said Dan Schmidt, kinesiology and health department chair and member of the Healthy Titans Advisory Group.

Schmidt, who serves as the director of Healthy Titans fitness program, pairs employees with upper-level physical education majors. The students earn credit for their time as personal trainers, working with the clients to develop a regimen targeting results that can vary from core strengthening to specific muscle toning to weight loss.

As far back as 1994, perhaps 60 employees would take advantage of the services at Albee Hall per semester. For the spring 2008 semester, about 130 people are involved with physical programs, with 54 of them working with student trainers. Recently, there even has been need for a waiting list.

Schmidt attributes the hike in participation to the purchase of new equipment as well as the opening of the Student Recreation and Wellness Center, a state-of-the-art fitness facility especially for students that opened in September 2007, freeing up space in Albee for faculty and staff.

Karen Reiter has made use of Albee Hall since before Healthy Titans came into the picture, working with a personal trainer for the past 10 years or so.

“I wanted something that was more structured,” said Reiter, who works in acquisitions at Polk Library. “I really wanted to learn how to do weight training, and I don’t have a whole lot of student contact.”

Reiter, a member of the Healthy Titans Advisory Group, sees Healthy Titans as an opportunity to get help from students while helping them get experience.

“It’s been very rewarding. In a short period of time, they evolve into a more professional person. It’s great having someone there rooting you on. If you want to work on a specific part of your body, the student can look it up and figure out what exercises are best.

“They’re the teacher, and I am their student,” she said.

This semester, Jennafer Rutta is training Reiter, along with two other clients. Following a fitness assessment in January, she sat down with her clients individually to map out their goals and develop a routine. She meets with her clients for two sessions each week.

“I lead the warm up, then we’ll do arms one day or core another. I throw in new things each time so they don’t get bored. I think it’s good to be a motivator. I like to lead and do everything with them,” said Rutta, of Wausau, adding that the program has made her more comfortable with one-on-one personal training.

“It’s a great asset to the students. I think I’ve grown from it,” she said.

Once upon a time, students in Rutta’s major almost exclusively went on to become physical education teachers. Today, many will go on to other careers, such as corporate trainers. Rutta plans to find a career in wellness promotion where she can present workshops and seminars to the public.

“Our students are getting better, more prepared to work with clients,” said Schmidt. “It’s really a win-win situation.”

Convenience is the name of game for both the students and the staff, since no one has to leave campus to participate. Employees can work out before work, during the lunch hour or after work.

“There’s no excuse about not having enough time, even if it’s 20 or 30 minutes,” Reiter said. “There’s something there for everyone.”

2010 and beyond

The Healthy Titans Advisory Group currently is analyzing the feedback from a campus-wide survey distributed in November 2007. The feedback will direct what avenues the program will explore.

“We’re poised right now to move into new areas. We’ve found that there’s a need to offer a weight management program, possibly Weight Watchers,” Heuer said. She also is looking into the option of subsidizing the cost of flu shots.

Heuer hopes that the Healthy Titans will continue to expand but said that if it gets too much bigger, a full-time coordinator might need to be hired.

Both Heuer and Schmidt acknowledge that Healthy Titans never would have gotten off the ground without help from community partnerships, including Aurora Health Care, which recently demonstrated the proper way to lift with campus custodians; ThedaCare’s Employee Assistance Program, which donated pedometers and UW Oshkosh Credit Union, which supported the project financially.

A truly integrated program, Healthy Titans also has received support from Administrative Services, the College of Letters and Science, the College of Nursing and the Student Affairs Office. Even the Titan football team has pitched in, moving exercise equipment from Fletcher Hall to Albee Hall.

It remains to be seen whether Healthy Titans will become a pilot program for the rest of UW System, but one thing seems certain: it’s here to stay at UW Oshkosh.

“As long as our employees’ health is important, we’ll have this program,” Schmidt said. “By the time 2009 comes around, we’ll have to rename ourselves Healthy Titans 2020.”

To learn more about Healthy Titans 2010, visit www.uwosh.edu/hr/healthytitans.php.