Wellness Breaks: tools for change

“I wanted to break down all the barriers that keep people from wanting to improve or maintain their health and wellness,” employee wellness practicum coordinator Kyra McKay said.

On May 7 at 1 p.m., UAA bookstore employees gathered in a circle to improve their health and overall work performance. After sitting at computers for hours, employees followed McKay in a light, 30-minute upper body workout to improve posture.

UAA employees follow an instructor during a wellness break on Employee Appreciation Day in 2018. Photo courtesy of Kyra McKay.

“Physical activity is really important during the work day,” McKay said. “A physically active person will not necessarily benefit from being physically active outside of work hours if they sit during the entire work day.”  

The UAA Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, or HPER, meets at various places on and off campus to give health students teaching experience and UAA employees a refreshing and energizing break from work for free.

Students are welcome and encouraged to come to the employee wellness breaks in the UAA Bookstore loft every Tuesday and Thursday from 1-1:30 p.m., as all bookstore events are public.

A typical wellness break includes instruction on activities such as workouts on a specific set of muscles, stretching, meditation and art therapy. While they are practicing, McKay and HPER students inform employees on why the particular activity they are doing is beneficial.

The instruction is designed to give participants motivation and tools to take control of their wellness.

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“[HPER students learn about] the three most important modifiable risk factor of chronic disease, which are tobacco use, physical inactivity and poor diet and nutrition,” McKay said. “Those are three things that you can change.”

By staff counsel request, HPER professor Jean Marcey, started the wellness breaks in 2011. McKay, a former UAA student, has been leading the breaks for about four years.

“My goal is to provide information and education about health, wellness and what people can do to improve it and maintain it on their own,” McKay said.

She recognizes the summer as a great time to begin a lifestyle change.

“The sun brings positive energy, positive moods, change… It’s a really prime time to get people to start something and try sometime new,” McKay said.

McKay started leading a six-week intensified wellness summer camp for employees on May 13. Each week focuses on a different health dimension.

High-intensity interval workouts will take place on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 7 a.m.  Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. will be strength training. Wellness breaks will continue as goal-based and activity-based sessions Mondays through Fridays.

McKay hopes to improve participation in wellness breaks and lead people into a healthier lifestyle with this program.

“We are that kind of stepping stone to give you that information and that education so that you can [continue to stay active] on your own outside of work,” McKay said.

Furthermore, she wants to build a cohesive community and improve the workplace environment and productivity at UAA.

“We want to show our employees that we care about them. And when you take care of your employees, they can better take care of students,” McKay said.

Special events coordinator Rachel Epstein hosts and participates in wellness breaks at the UAA bookstore.

Because wellness breaks and philosophy coincide, in principle, with the mission of Bookstore events— which is to create an open, attentive environment— [choosing to host] was not a difficult decision to make,” Epstein said.

Epstein herself enjoys the sessions.

The wellness breaks offer an opportunity to let go of stressful thoughts spinning around during the day and to become re-energized. ” Epstein said. “I feel better doing the simple breathing and stretching routines.  Each session is different so it is never boring and I learn how to take better care of myself.”

She hopes that others will take advantage of this opportunity.

“Kyra McKay is an excellent teacher and is in tune with each person’s strengths and weaknesses.  She never makes anyone feel outside wellness,” Epstein said. “It won’t hurt and the benefits are numerous.”

Visit the master calendar on the UAA website for the wellness break schedule. All wellness breaks are free. Bookstore wellness breaks are open to the public, while the other sessions are designed for UAA employees.