Thriving Campus features testimonials, contributions and personal experiences linked to health and wellbeing from UBC staff members. This month we feature the staff at ICORD, an interdisciplinary research centre focused on spinal cord injury at Vancouver General Hospital.
In 2010, ICORD received a Healthy Workplace Initiatives grant and implemented a program that is still going strong seven years later. Read on to learn how the program has impacted their workplace and their staff.
Guest contribution by Cheryl Niamath, Communications + Administrative Manager at ICORD.
How would you describe your program?
We offer twice-weekly, lunchtime fitness classes taught by professional instructors. The classes are open to anyone who wants to participate, including faculty, staff and students based in the Blusson Spinal Cord Centre (BSCC); people who work in nearby hospital buildings; or those who live or work in the neighbourhood or are coming to the BSCC for other reasons.
We started these classes in 2010 when ICORD won a UBC Healthy Workplace Initiative grant (now called Healthy Workplace Initiatives Program). We used the grant to fund a pilot program, hiring an instructor and purchasing some yoga mats and blocks. People loved the classes, so once the grant funding was used up, we continued — with the instructors’ fees being covered by class participants. We charge a very low, tiered-payment rate: enough to keep participant costs reasonable and cover the instructors’ fees, plus a bit extra for occasionally replacing equipment.
Originally, we called the classes “yogalates” because they were a combination of yoga and Pilates. Over time the classes have changed a little with the instructors, but have remained mat-based. We don’t jump around and get so sweaty that we need a shower afterwards, which is good for a lunchtime thing.
Participants come and go, but we still have a few people who’ve been in the program since the very beginning.
What do you see or hear is the greatest benefit for participants of the program?
Here are some comments from class participants:
“I’ve been taking these classes twice a week since they started. I love the positive peer pressure that makes me go, even if I don’t really feel like it. I feel stronger and more balanced, and always leave class feeling happy and energized.”
“The quality and regularity of classes has made an enormous difference to my overall health. I have no chronic issues or repetitive strain injuries that I think normally I should have by now (at 48 years old, working in a desk job) and I really do credit the bi-weekly yogalates classes!“
“There were numerous benefits to me as a participant over the two-and-a-half years that I attended. Getting out of the ward in the middle of the day helped clear my brain; it made me much better when I returned to work. Moving my body at lunch was very good from a therapeutic point of view. Learning about Pilates and how my body moves helped my physiotherapy practice when I was moving my patient’s bodies and teaching them how to move. I learned that I love Pilates. It makes so much sense to me. I became much fitter and have been able to continue Pilates in the community, as I am no longer near enough to continue at ICORD. Lastly, I had ongoing right sacroiliac joint issues, which totally disappeared once I started the Pilates sessions at ICORD. They never returned!”
What kind of work and support does it take to maintain the program’s sustainability?
The program is not cumbersome to sustain. We run quarterly sessions, 15-17 weeks long. About a month before the current quarter ends, I confirm the instructors for the next session. Then I send an email to all current participants, advertise on display screens in our building, put up posters, and keep track of people who’ve signed up. When the new session starts, I collect participant payments, and our finance assistant does a bank deposit. She also processes monthly invoices from our instructors. We probably spend less than two hours a month maintaining the program.
Here’s an example of how we advertise the classes in our building-wide weekly newsletter:
If you could provide advice to other individuals or departments/units interested in starting up a grassroots healthy initiative, what would it be?
Find out what types of programs people want to do (and are willing to commit to) before trying to organize anything. Then, start with pilot projects to see if there’s interest before committing a lot of resources. Apply for a Healthy Workplace Initiatives Program grant or ask your department for shared funding support for the pilot.
What are the main reasons your program has been successful and are there any lessons you have learned?
I think our program has been so successful for several reasons. We’ve had such great instructors who have tailored classes to suit participants. The classes are really convenient, the atmosphere is fun and supportive and not too serious, and the cost is quite low compared to similar classes elsewhere.
How do you personally thrive in your life?
I don’t know if I’m thriving or not, but I do try to keep balance in my life. Work takes up a lot of my time, but I do go to these classes at lunch twice a week, as well as playing drop-in soccer with my husband and a great group of people. I have fun with my husband cooking (relatively) healthy meals together. I love to knit, which I find quite meditative, and I try to get outside and enjoy nature as much as I can (unless it’s raining).
ICORD (International Collaboration On Repair Discoveries) is an interdisciplinary research centre focused on spinal cord injury. ICORD researchers are dedicated to the development and translation of more effective strategies to promote prevention, functional recovery, and improved quality of life after spinal cord injury. Located at Vancouver General Hospital in the Blusson Spinal Cord Centre, ICORD is supported by UBC Faculty of Medicine and Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute.
Photo credit: ICORD