HIP to your health: Program emphasizes overall well-being

L.A. Cicero Shirley Archer is scheduled to teach several Health Improvement Program classes this summer

Shirley Archer is scheduled to teach several Health Improvement Program classes this summer, including Mind Body Relaxation Skills, Yoga for Workplace Wellness and Fitness 9 to 5: Workday Exercises to De-Stress for Workplace Success.

When it comes to health, cause and effect can be all too obvious: Eat right, feel good; neglect exercise, feel bad. But some relationships are so subtle we might not even think of them as health matters.

Alternative transportation, for example. Sure, it's about traffic, but it can be considered partly a behavioral issue. Shopping till you drop—or your credit cards melt? That's not just about finances—it directly relates to stress management.

Making those connections—and offering solutions—is one of the roles of Stanford's Health Improvement Program (HIP), which was created in 1983 as one of the nation's first employer-sponsored wellness programs, according to Wes Alles, the program's director.

Classes on overconsumption, biking or riding the train to work, "wisdom therapy" for managing stress, and anger and yoga for office workers are some of the dozens of summer quarter offerings through HIP. Signups are under way; classes start next week.

Along with physical activity classes, including yoga, weight training and cardio, and health education, such as CPR and smoking cessation, HIP offers fitness assessments, a class for cancer patients, behavior change/wellness coaching, and behavior modification support groups. Employees can use Staff Training Assistance Program funds to pay for many of these courses.

Alles said Stanford's approach has been a model for other universities, employers and not-for-profit organizations both in the United States and other countries. More than 7,000 people participated in HIP programs last year. Even those who don't attend classes in person have access to online classes, such as Stepping Out with Stanford, a self-directed walking program, and other tools offered by HIP and the Health Promotion Resource Center.

Stepping Out with Stanford is a 10-week, self-paced pedometer program with weekly e-mail coaching and tips for increasing steps, said Julie Anderson, HIP's health promotion manager. "The online portion helps with goal setting and tracking of steps with graphs," she said.

HIP provides health information "that is based in science, that is easy to access and that serves the needs and interests of our community," Alles said.

That means taking a broad approach to defining and delivering health information. Classes in HIP's Healthy Living Program, including ergonomics, smoking cessation and weight management, can be taught on-site at any university department by arrangement with a minimum of 10 participants. Departments can schedule classes by calling 725-4416. Other courses are available online.

Jane Rothstein, a licensed social worker, teaches a one-session class called Bike to Work—FUNdamentals on July 12 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and co-teaches a departmental class called Alternative Transportation—Isn't It Time to Try It One Day a Week? "HIP more and more is offering guidance with the behavior change aspect of alternative transportation," Rothstein said.

"Any time you get somebody out of their car, they're usually going to get more exercise," she said. And with everyday traffic jams and parking hassles, "it's very much affecting them in terms of their stress levels."

Stress also is key to Rothstein's Pockets of Pleasure: Replacing Overconsumption of Food and Merchandise with Healthier Fun, co-taught with Deborah Balfanz of the Stanford Prevention Research Center, which will be offered during the lunch hour Wednesday, July 19.

"Often when people are feeling stressed out or lacking pleasure in their lives, they are engaging in any number of behaviors that may not be healthy for them," Rothstein said. "We're saying, 'Let's give you some other ideas for pleasure so that eating and spending beyond what you really need aren't so attractive.'"

Employee health is not just personal—it affects the workplace as well in terms of morale, absenteeism and productivity. For that reason, many HIP classes are specifically designed to address work-related issues.

Shirley Archer, author of Fitness 9 to 5: Easy Exercises for the Working Week, teaches Yoga for Workplace Wellness and several other HIP classes. She became a fitness and wellness educator after working so long and hard as a Wall Street attorney that she was sidelined by illness for a year and a half while she was still in her 20s. Her classes are geared toward people of all fitness levels, but she said she takes particular interest in beginners.

"Classes are only relevant insofar as they apply to your daily life," she said. If a yoga pose improves posture, for example, "the idea is that you bring that to how you walk; how you sit at your desk; how you sit when you're commuting."

One of Archer's students was so inspired by the strength and balance benefits from her Pilates mat classes that she arranged for Archer to teach a Fitness 9 to 5 class for her co-workers.

"Shirley has a way of helping you make what you learn about exercising a part of how you live—not just how you spend one hour a week," said Laurie Quintel, director of employee labor relations at Stanford Hospital.

Another class with a practical approach is Shani Robins' Wisdom Therapy to alleviate anxiety, depression and anger and foster growth. Wisdom therapy, according to Robins, "combines the most effective practices of Western psychology with the Eastern traditions." Some of the components, he says, "are cognitive behavioral therapy and developing strengths through mindfulness meditation." That full-day workshop will be offered on Saturday, July 22, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

"Not only do we learn to be more present and get a lot more out of everyday experiences, but a wonderful byproduct is that we get dramatic reductions in anxiety," Robins said.

Robins' current focus is on using wisdom therapy in medical settings to see if it helps patients with fibromyalgia and other disorders that may not respond well to medical treatments alone.

But the HIP class is a way for him to take it beyond that.

"The big excitement for me is actually to bring this out for the everyday population in addition to the medical community," he said. "I definitely think the everyday person can make very good use of it."

For a list of courses, fees and schedules visit http://hip.stanford.edu or call 723-9649.

Jon Ann Lindsey is a writer in the Office of University Communications.