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Inspiring and scientifically proven health advice at 'Healthy University' days

Leiden University is the first Dutch university to join the Healthy Universities international network. Lifestyle workshops, rewards for good behaviour and the latest interventions encourage students and staff to live more healthily. The experiences gained through this network will be used in scientific research and teaching.

‘It's mad,'  says Professor of Health Psychology Andrea Evers. Our scientists as medics and psychologists are telling patients how to live healthier lives, and our students are developing treatment plans for all kinds of target groups as part of their study programme. But this knowledge isn't being used within the university, and that while staff and students  are just as likely as others in society to suffer from a chronic illness arising from genetic misfortune or an unhealthy lifestyle. Together with colleague Winnie Gebhardt, Evers has been organising the Healthy Faculty Days with inspiring workshops at her own Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences for the last two years. This initiative is now being introduced throughout the whole university.

Practise what you preach

The 'practise what you preach' maxim has also been gaining ground in the LUMC. Partly thanks to dean Pancras Hogendoorn, the idea was adopted of joining the Healthy Universities international network, a platform where universities share best practices. Evers: ‘There are already a number of initiatives within the university encouraging people to live more healthily, but we want to share a lot more scientifically proven knowledge and make existing initiatives and workshops more readily available.'   

Healthy University Days

The aim is to get as many employees and students as possible to take part voluntarily in the activities. At the ‘Healthy University Days’ everyone can take free workshops on a healthy lifestyle during their lunch break. The launch for the Executive Board, deans and professors will be on 17 October in the Faculty Club, and there will be workshops for students and staff on 18 and 19 October. Workshops will also be offered to students and staff in The Hague. 

Role of students

Students play an important role in the Healthy University Days. The workshops will be given by master's students of the Health and Medical Psychology specialisation. Evers also has other possibilities in mind. In the master's in E-health Innovations, students develop online interventions for particular target groups such as toddlers or adolescents. They have, for example, developed an app to reduce unhealthy snacking among school children, and they are now proposing asking the people who follow this app to develop interventions for students and staff. 'It would be good if the best idea every year  could actually be implemented within the University.'  

Rewarding a healthy lifestyle 

Scientific research has shown that rewarding people motivates them to live a healthier life. With this in mind, from January 2019, staff at the University can take part in Benefit for All, an online programme. Participants can earn points by measuring their blood pressure, using a pedometer and monitoring their activity goals. These points can be exchanged for trips and discounts on different products. Evers stresses that participation is completely voluntary and that the data will be kept strictly confidential. 'It isn't a ranking on which you can be judged. We want to have positive and stimulating activities that people want to take part in.'  

How healthy is Evers' own lifestyle?

‘I generally start the day with some yoga exercises and I eat very healthily. I also go to the gym three times a week, for fitness training. I used to go five times a week, but I found that that having to go to the gym too many times can also be stressful. I go almost everywhere by public transport and I walk a much as possible. I work hard, more than 40 hours a week, but  I don't think it's the number of hours you work that's important, but how relaxed you are while working. Doing sports helps me relax my mind. And those little moments when I take a pause, not speaking to anyone, are very important for me to keep myself relaxed. I don't pretend to be perfect - we all struggle with the challenge of living as healthily as possible - but I do think managers ought to set a good example. It wouldn't be good if I took the lift all the time to the second floor, and spent the whole day stressed out.'  

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