That's the idea behind a biweekly series of walks through Nichols Arboretum, which had its inaugural season at SPH this year. The brainchild of the school's Student Life Team, the 50-minute midday Gratitude Walks start in late April and run through October and are open to the entire SPH community. Between five and ten people turn out for each walk, says Chanel DeGuzman of the SPH Office of Academic Affairs, who helps coordinate the program. With no set route or agenda - just the chance to get away from the desk and enjoy the Arb - the walks are meant to foster health, well-being, and gratitude for the beauty and blessings around us.
As a practicing physician, Ana Baylin quickly realized that "medicine comes too late" - it's prevention that saves lives. So she went into nutritional epidemiology, hoping to help turn the tide on obesity and unhealthy eating. But after years of watching diets fail, she concluded that even though most people know what they should eat, they don't eat healthily, because it takes "too much willpower to go against the flow. You can't put all the burden on individual behavior."
Her epiphany? To bring about real lifestyle change, you have to make it easier for people to adopt healthy behaviors - which means you have to change environments.
Specifically, the work environment. "Sitting is killing us," Baylin says. "We were not designed to be sedentary, to spend our days without expending energy." Last year, at her own expense, Baylin installed a treadmill desk in her office at SPH. She spends at least two hours a day on it, gently walking while she works. She finds it helps her focus more than sitting still. (Her desk can also be lowered to a conventional height for use with a chair.) On the research front, she's working with physician Caroline Richardson of the Ann Arbor VA to compare the impact of a treadmill desk intervention with that of an online diabetes prevention program.
Treadmill desks aren't for everyone, of course, and they aren't the only option. Baylin notes that there are also standing desks, biking desks, and high tables with tall chairs for conference rooms - all of which address the common complaint that people "don't have enough time" to exercise.
Baylin is working as well with U-M engineers to assess the health benefits of LED skylights that mimic sunlight, because studies suggest a link between obesity and misaligned circadian rhythms. She knows it will take institutional change to enact many of the workplace improvements she envisions, and she's looking into ways to reduce bureaucratic and financial barriers to such change. But she's convinced she's found an answer to our sedentary lifestyles.
Schedule a detour. Park farther away. Walk.
Why? Walking boosts mood and energy, says Michelle Segar, PhD, MPH '97, author of No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness. It's also convenient. You can walk in any number of ways and places - safety permitting.
You don't have to change clothes or take a shower. It's social - a great way to connect with loved ones and friends.
Too many people think they have to walk at a certain intensity, for a certain time, to get any health benefits, Segar says. It's not true. "Count everything you do throughout the day, and know it accumulates." Find ways to move. Get ice cleats for winter walking.
Instead of passively sitting while waiting to pick up your kids, practice "active waiting." Know that by walking - even if it's only for two minutes - you're not only giving yourself a positive gift, you're fueling what matters most.