Healthier Together Challenge: McGill Steps it up

“As we have adjusted to the realities of the pandemic, many have also found new ways of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The Healthier Together Challenge is a wonderful initiative that has brought together McGill’s employees in the name of active living and teamwork. I applaud our staff members who have embraced new fitness challenges while demonstrating great collaboration along the way.”

Professor Suzanne Fortier, Principal and Vice-Chancellor, McGill University

For 6 weeks starting at the end of February, 400 McGill employees participated in a resiliency challenge created by the Comprehensive Health Improvement Program (CHIP) team, spearheaded by Dr. Steven Grover. On an interactive online platform (nVIGORus), employees tracked their physical activity, received tips on mindful eating, as well as connected and encouraged each other using the messaging board. “The pandemic has made it challenging for so many people to fit movement into their lives- so this was an opportunity to come together over something fun and to motivate each other to achieve our goals and get outside more during the last weeks of winter” says Sara Charbonneau, Health and Well-Being Advisor and challenge organizer.

For this participant who chose to remain anonymous, the challenge gave them the boost they needed to add more movement into their lives- “I couldn’t find the motivation to get going until I was solicited to join the Healthier Together Challenge. This challenge allowed me to set my own goals, and being part of a team helped keep me motivated. The fact that I could track a diverse variety of activities (walking, house cleaning, shovelling snow) allowed me to see that I was more active than I thought and it was easy to add various activities throughout the day to reach my goal.”

During a challenge reunion in mid-April, many participants shared that they have sustained the healthy habits adopted during the challenge even after it ended. For others, especially the top teams, they expressed relief that the challenge was over as they had pushed themselves hard to remain at the top. The most active team, a team of MAC campus employees, worked very hard and very closely together to encourage each other. When speaking to their team’s success, team member Julie Major, Faculty Lecturer and Academic Advisor in the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences stated that many were already quite active before the challenge, but learned that they could be even more active and could fit more movement into their schedules.

For most, the challenge encouraged a routine of balance, connection, and increased movement. Suzanne Bonn, Faculty Lecturer in The School of Continuing Studies and a new professor shared her story - “Before the Challenge, on a good day, I was getting in 2,000-3,000 steps; on a regular day, maybe 1,000 steps. At the beginning of the challenge, I focused on my realistic goal (5000 steps per day), and I found that I was able to do this. It was hard though. Five thousand steps felt like an eternity. By the second week of the challenge, I was able to walk 5,000 steps every day. By the third week, I was walking nearly 10,000 steps a day, and my body was calling on me to not only walk in the morning but also in the evening after dinner. Thanks to the Healthier Together Challenge, I’ve bonded with my colleagues and developed a new habit of walking daily”.

The challenge also brought teams closer together during a time when it was difficult to connect- like Team Medicine Mouseketeers  who stated that “During the pandemic, when we weren't able to see each other, it was nice to be in touch daily with words of encouragement ~ and at the end of the challenge we felt we just had to meet up on Mont Royal for a celebratory run (socially distanced of course)”. 

“The outcome of the challenge exceeded my expectations!”- says Sara Charbonneau. “There were two virtual get-togethers which created a space for exchanging stories, resources, comradery and community. It was great to see so many people from across the university unite on healthy changes together. The past year has been difficult, so it was great to see McGill teams come together over such a fun and positive event. For me the wins are in the small successes that are not necessarily measured- the connections made, sustained behaviour change and additional tools gained during this difficult time.”

Congratulations to all who participated and completed the challenge! Stay tuned for more challenges to come!

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