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Making Fitness Matter

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Cedarville resident Debbie Johnson is one of hundreds of Cedarville University faculty and staff family members who take part in the University’s annual FIT Challenge. Photo Credit: Scott L. Huck/Cedarville University

by Public Relations Office

January 24, 2005

With fitness and health increasingly important in today`s society, one local institution is doing its part to encourage employees to understand and enjoy the benefits of being fit. In 1995 the Cedarville University Department of Nursing developed the Wellness Center. As coordinator of the Wellness Center, Cedarville resident Dr. Sandra Shortt was looking for a way to encourage faculty and staff and their families to be more active. "Since physical exercise positively impacts risk factors for so many chronic health problems, exercise is a great health habit to develop," Shortt explained. In the spring of 1998, Shortt announced the Wellness Center`s first FIT (Faithful in Training) Challenge (then called the "Activity Challenge") to encourage physical activity. Now entering its seventh year, FIT has become a 12-week incentive program designed to encourage faculty, staff, and their families to become active and stay active. Participants commit to exercising three to five times per week for 12 weeks, beginning in mid-January. Exercise sessions are a minimum of 30 minutes and can include aerobic exercise and/or strength training. Participants in the Challenge try all types of aerobic activity — Tae Bo, jogging, running, rollerblading, racquetball, step aerobics, Pilates, basketball, Scottish dancing, hiking, snowshoveling, and swimming. Many take advantage of the exercise and strength training machines and climbing wall at the University`s Fitness Center. The goals of the FIT Challenge are to encourage employees and their families to be faithful stewards of their health and bodies. Along with that, families are encouraged to exercise together. FIT Challenge also provides opportunities to learn how to exercise safely and effectively in a way that improves fitness. Shortt noted, "People have interrelated dimensions: spiritual, physical, intellectual, emotional, and social. People can learn, make choices, and influence life`s events in order to establish personal and family health." Motivating people to appreciate the goals was one of Shortt`s priorities. Awards are part of that effort. Initially, incentive awards for the Challenge (contingent on the completion level) were simple — a mug and then a polo shirt. "However," Shortt explained, "as we progressed, few people wanted another shirt or mug. Offering gift certificates to restaurants and businesses allowed families to share a meal together, celebrating their hard work." Shortt said many chose to further their fitness quest by purchasing sporting equipment or clothing at a local sporting goods store. The human resources office along with the department of nursing make the incentive program possible each year by earmarking part of their budgets for the incentives. Offering a variety of awards is challenging and does take extra time. Shortt added, however, "The joy that people express when they receive their awards is worth every bit of trouble. They are encouraged that the University cares for them and their families in a personal way." Shortt noted that the FIT Challenge promotes a positive and supportive family atmosphere in which families work together to grow in health and fitness. "We do not want to promote a CU culture that is hypercritical, judgmental, or condescending toward people`s struggles or failures in health-related matters," she said. "For example, with the recent media emphasis on obesity as a public health problem worldwide, some people may consciously or unconsciously point a finger of blame or criticism at those whose weight is more than what is deemed healthy." In contrast, Shortt said the aim is to encourage people wherever they are on the health spectrum. "Our goal is victorious living, evidenced in many ways, from increased health knowledge to lost weight, to improved fitness," she noted. "We want our programs to reflect this." Compared to 75 participants in the first year, in 2004 there were 341 people committed to exercising in FIT Challenge. Of those, 68 percent successfully met their goals. Some are genuinely athletic while others are simply interested in keeping fit. One participant had a baby during the Challenge and still finished at the maximum level. Some use the Challenge as part of their medical regimen. Cedarville resident Debbie Johnson, wife of University staff member Rod Johnson, has Lupus and needs to exercise for therapeutic purposes. She sees the FIT Challenge as a good motivator to help her in that effort. "Because Lupus is a disease that affects the joints and muscles in the same way as arthritis, doctors recommend continued movement and exercise as the best treatment," she stated. "The FIT Challenge was a great incentive, and my joints have never felt better!" In step with one of the goals of the FIT Challenge, some participants use the program as a way of encouraging their families to exercise together. Cedarville resident Jeff Bolender is an assistant professor of exercise and sport science at the University. He and his family are very active, and the Challenge provides an additional incentive to keep that up. Last year the Bolenders collectively chose a restaurant gift certificate as their reward. "We told the kids when they signed up that they were working toward this, and we made a big deal over it," wife Shari said. "[When we went to the restaurant], we got dressed up and let them order anything on the menu, even dessert!" For the Bolenders, the FIT Challenge has been rewarding and fun to do as an entire family. They can often be found exercising together. Family bike rides are a favorite activity. "Our theory is that if you don`t like exercise, then you won`t do it," said Shari. "Find an activity you like and then you will be happy to do it!" Each year the Challenge has been fine-tuned based on research and participant evaluations and suggestions. Recordkeeping has been simplified, and there are no meetings to attend. "We have lengthened the Challenge from eight to 12 weeks so that people are more likely to continue exercising after the challenge is over," Shortt explained. Strength training was included to encourage more people, especially women, to build their strength. The University`s Computer Services Department provided the ability for electronic registration, activity tracking, and online program evaluation. The opening of the University`s Fitness Center in 2003 has greatly impacted the Challenge. "We were able to begin in January, when people are very interested in becoming more active and losing weight. In the past, we had to wait until March because indoor facilities for exercise were limited," Shortt said. "Now we have Nautilus" machines and free weights, as well as top-of-the-line aerobic machines." The 2005 FIT Challenge is now underway with 406 University employees and family members signed up. For more information, contact Shortt at shortts@cedarville.edu or 937-766-7656. -30-