By Christin Senior | April 10, 2017 2:39 pm

 

The College of Medicine’s first Wellness Day introduced faculty and staff to initiatives designed to promote mental and physical health. It’s an issue that’s top-of-mind for health-conscious researchers.

According to the CDC, nearly 80 percent of American adults don’t get enough exercise during the week. And with many workers confined to their desk for eight hours a day, inactivity can lead to an increased risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, as well as a lack of energy, leading to lost productivity.

Nadine Dexter, director of the college’s Harriet F. Ginsburg Health Sciences Library, was part of the committee that planned the day, which kicks off six months of planned wellness-related guest lectures and activities like group walks.

“Everyone wants to be healthy, but sometimes we get stuck on the journey,” she said. “Encouraging staff and faculty to seek a balance in work/life activities is of great importance to the college, as healthy and happy employees make for a positive workplace environment. What’s more, by participating in this initiative, we serve as healthy role models to our students.”

Stress is one barrier to workplace satisfaction. Fortunately, faculty and staff have access to personalized biofeedback devices that can help to alleviate it.

“Though stress is often normalized by society, it can become a major issue impacting both physical and psychological well-being,” said Dr. Katherine Daly, a licensed psychologist and the college’s director of counseling and wellness services. “What biofeedback devices do is give you visual feedback about your biological and physiological processes, like heart rate variability. By pairing the devices with a brief guided relaxation or mindfulness meditation exercise, you’re able to regulate your heart rate and calm down. When you’re able to take control over your physiological reactions to stress, you gain control over your stress rather than letting it control you.”

Students, faculty and staff can check out the devices from the Health Sciences Library front desk on the second floor.

The wellness activities are intended to coincide with an IRB-approved six-month study that Dr. Sampath Parthasarathy, associate dean for research, is conducting in his cholesterol and diabetes lab, located in room 121 of the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences. The study is open to all College of Medicine faculty and staff.

A small blood sample will be taken from each participant to test for inflammatory markers like cholesterol and glucose levels at the beginning of the study, as well as at the halfway point and conclusion. Half of the group will serve as a control, going about their normal routines. The other half will get customized suggestions on ways to optimize their overall wellness, such as taking a yoga class or doing regular meditation exercises.

The study’s goal is to track if and how positive nutritional and lifestyle habits help to lower cholesterol and overall chronic inflammatory status over time.

“We are starting small but hoping to go big,” said Dr. Parthasarathy. “We are planning to recruit about 100 people.”

Ultimately, Dr. Parthasarathy hopes to use the lab to conduct further clinical research on health and wellness.

“Studies indicate that inflammatory markers play a critical role in disease states. If we can reduce these markers by simple lifestyle changes, that’s better than putting somebody on medication,” said Dr. Giri Venkatraman, a research scientist at the lab.

To volunteer for the study, contact Dr. Venkatraman.

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