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August 6, 2001

Registrar's office marches toward better health

By Eric Rangus


Round and round they go … When the choice is between sitting in front of a computer in an ergonomic chair that feels more like an iron maiden with each passing hour or venturing outside for a breath of (relatively) fresh air and a brisk walk, the choice is simple.

When the sun is out, the afternoon view of the Quad from, say, the balcony of the Carlos Museum will include employees of the registrar’s office orbiting the grassy center of campus—walking, talking, laughing, getting healthier by the step.

It’s all part of an effort spearheaded by University Registrar C. R. Nicolaysen, who is encouraging his people to improve their health by exercising during the day and, as a consequence, better their work experiences.

“Everybody wins,” he said.

But Nicolaysen, a driven and focused manager who has been at Emory 27 years, admitted that he probably would not have paid much attention to any kind of work/health program if the subject hadn’t hit so close to home a couple years ago.

In 1999, during a regular checkup, Nicolaysen’s doctor found an anomaly near his heart. That led to quadruple-bypass surgery, which was performed at Emory Hospital by Lawrence Spurling, director of preventive cardiology at Emory Clinic.

Following the surgery, Nicolaysen was invited to join the Clinic’s HeartWise Risk Reduction Program. The program incorporates exercise physiologists and personal trainers who tailor a baseline exercise program for interested patients.

After some initial skepticism, Nicolaysen signed up. “[I thought] it would be some rinky-dink type of exercise, ‘we’ll all stand around and wave our arms’-type of thing,’” he said, “What I was thinking turned out to be totally false. I hate to admit that.”

The program includes not only exercise (even yoga), but information on healthy living, stress reduction, proper eating habits and anger management. Nicolaysen was so impressed with the program that he looked for ways to apply its principles to his office.

So Nicolaysen asked his exercise physiologist, Christy Brock, what he could do start a health program within the registrar’s office. His goal was pretty simple: They should move. And not just back and forth to the coffeemaker—real movement.

So late last year, Heart Center representatives visited the registrar’s office and discussed topics such as good eating and fitness, then led office employees onto the Quad for some light stretching and walking. The sessions continued over the next few months, and soon afternoon exercise became a staple of the office’s daily routine.

They walk for a half-hour in two groups, one at 11:15 a.m. and the other at 12:15 p.m., to ensure the office is always staffed. When weather allows, the walkers circle the quarter-mile Quad perimeter three or four times. When it’s raining or if there’s oppressive heat, they trudge up and down the stairs of the B. Jones Center. They stretch, do neck rolls, sometimes even step aerobics on the curbs.

During the day and over breaks, discussion topics in the office range from eating healthy to stress relief. The presence of guest speakers has continued, too. In June, the subject was exercise and fitness. In July, it was low-back pain and exercise. This month: Stress.

“The amazing thing is we do 20 to 30 minutes a day, several times a week, and we get results,” said Maggie Turlington, one of the office’s walkers. “You don’t have to break your back or run five miles.”

Turlington added that the program has paid off personally. Walking perks her up, her clothes fit better, and her cholesterol and triglycerides have dropped significantly.

“It’s certainly raised our consciousness about how little we can move during a day when we are working at our desks,” said fellow walker Alexa Devetter. “People walk around the office saying,

‘Are you walking today?’ It’s a motivator.”

Of the registrar’s 24 employees, about three-quarters walk in the afternoon. Of those who don’t participate, several have their own exercise regimen (one person is a long-distance runner, for instance).

“This is something the person in the worst condition can participate in and doesn’t get made fun of,” Nicolaysen said. “They feel better for it; they have a little more self-esteem. The person who’s in the best shape can participate and doesn’t lose a thing.”

While the program was his idea, Nicolaysen rarely participates. As the boss, he doesn’t want to infringe on his employees’ time outside the office, he said. Besides, he works out for two hours each morning at the Blomeyer Center.

“I feel 20 years younger,” said the 63-year-old Nicolaysen, who is fully recovered from his surgery. He never thought he was a candidate for heart problems. A track athlete in college, he ran three to five miles a day even up until his surgery.

Word is getting around. One of Nicolaysen’s colleagues from the provost’s office asked about the walkers. He said that the HeartWise people can provide all kinds of information, but the desire to get healthy has to come from within.

“It’s going to happen by itself,” Nicolaysen said.

“If it were up to me,” he continued, “I’d say ‘On the Quad,’ and we’d shut down [the University] for an hour at noon and let people do this, because I think this is important.”


Back to Emory Report August 6, 2001