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How can we make Leiden a really 'healthy university'?

At the initiative of several of its professors, Leiden University has joined the international Healthy Universities network. Surrounded by space hoppers, the initiators of this move and those present exchanged experiences and tips at the kick-off meeting on 17 October. ‘I don't miss my chauffeur' and 'Alcohol-free beer should be served here as a standard.'

‘I hope you have all come on foot or by bicycle,' Marleen van ’t Oever, head of communication for the LUMC, told the professors, deans and staff assembled in the Faculty Club. In any case, many of those present spent most of the meeting standing up, which is a good sign, in the opinion of Hanno Pijl, Professor of Diabetology,   one of the initiators. 'Sitting is the new smoking,' he commented in an interview. In evidence of that, there are now plans to ban smoking on the whole LUMC site. 

Andrea Evers, Hanno Pijl, Carel Stolker, Pancras Hogendoorn, Philip Spinhoven, Winnie Gebhardt and Jet Bussemaker.

Best practices

Dean of the Faculty of Medicine Pancras Hogendoorn kicks a space hopper aside as he explains how during a visit to Edinburgh, he became inspired when he saw how the university there benefited from membership of Healthy Universities. In this originally British network, the member universities exchange best practices with one another in the area of health, well-being and sustainability. ‘As a hospital and university, we have to make sure that we practise what we preach.'  

Worskhops on healthier living

Professor of Health Psychology Andrea Evers, also an intiator, is in complete agreement. ‘We spend a lot of time teaching about health and well-being. Why wouldn't we apply this knowledge to our students and staff, and then do more research?' Students of the master's in Health and Medical Psychology will be giving workshops on 18 and 19 October to students and staff about sleeping better, healthy eating, being more active and reducing stress. 'We are not a public health institution, but we do have to offer good support to help prevent stress overload, depression and alcohol abuse,' Professor of Clinical psychology Philip Spinhoven pointed out. Spinhoven is chair of the new Student Well-being Taskforce. 

Jet Bussemaker

Leiden Professor Jet Bussemaker is an ambassor for Healthy Universities

‘This intiative fits well within my chair in Science, Policy and  Societal Impact in Healthcare. As a minister, for five years I had a car and chauffeur and almost every physical activity was done for me. When I left, I told my chauffeurs that they were probably the people I was going to miss the most. But I was wrong: I really enjoy being more active. Taking the stairs instead of the lift can make quite a difference - although it may take you some time to actually find the stairs. Luckily, the main stairs in our Wijnhaven Building in The Hague are also a platform for events, and that's the way it should be. I'm not sure yet exactly what I will be doing as ambassador. Maybe I'll be space-hopping up and down the corridors!' 

Alcohol-free beer

Rector Carel Stolker thanked all the initiators: 'I am so pleased that you approached me with this idea just as we were discussing work pressure in our Board meeting. A number of intiatives had already been started, but this comprehensive approach means that more attention will be paid to the health and well-being of students and staff throughout the whole University.’ What would the Rector himself like to change?  ‘The drinks. A former interim Dean at the School of Law once remarked that people at universities drink more than anywhere else - and he may well have been right. We should definitely keep on having the drinks parties because they are important opportunities for networking, but we should also make sure there are alcohol-free drinks available. And in meetings, why not offer apples instead of biscuits? I already do that in my meetings.' 

Willemieke Ligtenberg

Willemieke Ligtenberg, master's student of Psychology gives workshops on sleep

‘I give workshops for students and staff about getting a better night's sleep. A lot of people don't realise what the consequences can be of a chronic lack of sleep; it can lead to some serious problems, such as cardiovascular diseases. In the workshops I give practical tips, such as not drinking any caffeine for at least six hours before you go to sleep, and be moderate with alcohol. Participants also get down to work themselves. They have to map out their evening ritual. Certain activities seem to take more time than you think and if you are aware of that, you are less likely to go to sleep too late every time. I myself would like to be more physically active. I do sports but on a full day with lectures I don't move enough. Even something simple like always using a toilet on a different floor results in extra movement.’

Photos Sahra Almahmood
Text Linda van Putten
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