Online workouts get your heart rate 'Zoom'-ing

Michelle FitzSimons conducts a chair yoga class online.

By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau

COVID-19 has been an exercise in social distancing. Patience. Frustration. Innovation. It has been an exercise in many things.

But Grand Canyon University Corporate Wellness Administrator Chuck Howard would like to see it be an exercise in mobility, too.

Even though employees continue to shelter at home, Howard said being stuck at home doesn’t mean being stuck in a rut, sitting around the house while binge watching Netflix.

As soon as he heard that ground classes were moving online and that employees were moving from their offices on campus to their home offices, he started thinking about ways to make sure employees were still focusing on their health goals.

How could employees exercise and keep well without access to fitness centers and face-to-face contact with fitness instructors? How would they continue to further their wellness education without the monthly healthy cooking class to attend in Building 71 or without in-person access to the campus dietitian?

Chuck Howard

“We just took all our programs and put them online, and then added some,” Howard said. “Every day, there’s something going on, whether it be mindfulness or a cardio class or a strength class with the Wellable program. We’ve got a nice array of programs.”

Not that the University’s health and wellness community had not explored online possibilities before COVID-19.

“We have a percentage of people who come to the fitness center and work out and do that consistently. But then there’s a host of other people that do things remotely with us,” Howard said. “I could see the dynamics of wellness changing, because more people were working from home (even before the coronavirus), so we started doing virtual Zoom classes almost a year ago.

“We’re finding that we’re getting more participation through Zoom than we do in person. We did cooking classes, and we would get maybe about 20. Now we have another 30 online watching as we’re doing them,” he said.

Employees working from home can continue to join in the University’s wellness challenges. While the holidays and the popular Fitness B4 the Feast Challenge are still months away, employees can muster their competitive gusto and join in the latest Wellness 360 Wellable Challenge (register your team here).

The seven-week step challenge, a team event in which entrants calculate steps, nutrition and other activities, launches May 15 and takes employees through Independence Day. Howard estimates that 300-400 teams participated globally last year, and three or four of GCU's 10 teams finished in the Top 10.

Fitness library always available

Employees can sharpen their fitness savvy, too, through Wellable Live, a digital service designed specifically to reach everyone sheltering at home. They can join in fitness classes, guided meditations and lifestyle sessions through their smartphone, computer or other digital device. The 30-minute weekly webinars are livestreamed at 9 a.m. Monday to Friday and distributed on digital meeting platform Zoom.

The webinars are recorded so employees can access a fitness library and exercise whenever they’ve carved out a little time in their day away from their work meetings or from helping out their children with their distance learning.

Employees working from home can join in Wellness Live sessions, such as this mindfulness session on healthy eating at home during the coronavirus.

One mindfulness session in April, for example, focused on healthy eating at home during the coronavirus, when grocery store shelves are emptier than usual and families are limited to buying one or two high-demand items, such as meat.

Some advice: Stock up on breads that may not be the usual sliced bread (whole-grain English muffins, whole-wheat waffles); buy grains, such as instant oatmeal and couscous; and keep a stock of sturdy fruit (such as apples) and sturdy veggies that keep longer in the refrigerator than other veggies.

The morning webinar sessions this week span from cardio blast, core sculpt, strength and conditioning, and rejuvenating yoga to mindfulness, all of which reflect the current sheltering conditions. The core sculpt session on Tuesday, for example, aims to strengthen core muscles through the use of participants’ own body weight, small hand weights and common household items, so no need to venture out to buy fitness equipment.

It’s important, Howard said, to try to maintain a schedule, so if you worked out before coronavirus, continue to do so. Or, if you didn’t work out before COVID-19 and can make it part of your schedule, do that, too.

“I’ve been telling people, coaching them in terms of just get up, take a shower, as if you’re going to work. Go work out, take a walk, and just really try to stay on your normal schedule so when you go back to work, it’s just not going to be a shock. … In 21 days, things become a habit. This has become a habit, not being at work, so you have to try to mimic what you normally would do so you won’t get out of a routine.”

Outside of that 9 a.m. daily programming, Howard said that for May he’s excited about the “4 Week Summer Shape Up Meal Series” on Wellable Live, which will run from 11:30 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays. The series kicks off this Tuesday with breakfast planning ideas and will be followed May 12 with healthy snack ideas, May 19 with healthy dinner ideas and will wrap up May 26.

Adding a chair to yoga

Michelle FitzSimons has been teaching yoga on campus for about 18 months. One day Howard approached her with an idea: “What do you think about chair yoga?”

“I thought it was a great bridgeway for employees who might then decide to come over and try a full (yoga) class,” FitzSimons said.

It also has been a great bridgeway to connect with the campus community during the pandemic. Employees can access the chair yoga sessions online at noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Converting that 30-minute chair yoga class online “has definitely been out of my comfort zone,” FitzSimons said, as she’s battled poor internet connections and has tried to adjust to the virtual world, such as trying to help participants join the Zoom meeting as she’s leading the workout class.

“But, doing the class via Zoom, I have gotten some great feedback. It’s definitely helped me reach out,” she said of having that contact with employees and students.

Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic dietitian Liz Cook conducts webinars on Wednesdays. This week she'll discuss popular diets, such as Keto and Paleo.

One University asset Howard was able to connect with was University dietitian Liz Cook, who has been helming Wellness Wednesday sessions online since employees started working from home. She has covered topics such as meal planning and developing a healthy relationship with food.

Cook usually works heavily with students during the academic year – and still meets with students one-on-one on Zoom or through email.

“Some of them feel so connected to GCU,” she said, and she likes to maintain that connection for them. But “this was a nice little push to get me more involved with employees,” she said of her Wednesday webinars.

Cook said she has seen anywhere from 10 to 25 employees joining in her Zoom meetings and even noticed employees posting what they do on Facebook for accountability.

This Wednesday, Cook will delve into the pros and cons of popular diets, such as Keto, Paleo and intermittent fasting.

In April, Howard's team rolled out a four-week, at-home, customized workout plan and just released May’s workout schedule, which might include 40 minutes of walking/jogging one day along with upper body work or a jump rope workout another day. That means employees don’t even have to come up with their own workout plan -- the workouts are brought to them.

Anyone who completes all 18 workouts (with a comment on Instagram @gcuwellness after each workout) will receive a Wellness 360 polo.

Howard said a good way to connect with GCU when it comes to health and fitness is through the GCU/GCE Corporate Wellness Instagram page. It's where the department posts various challenges, the monthly workout plans and more.

“We’re always posting new exercises,” he said, including Monday’s Jump Rope Challenge: Jump rope as many times as possible in 30 seconds. Film your best jump and send it to the @gcuwellness Instagram page through direct message. Winners will be announced May 11.

There’s a new YouTube channel, too.

When it comes to exercising, mindfulness and just keeping a healthy lifestyle, there are no excuses.

“It’s just really getting the communication out there and getting people to know that we’re there and what we offer,” he said.

Grand Canyon University senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at 623-639-7901 or at [email protected].


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