Among the many life changes felt as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic, one change may be felt most: the decrease of physical activity and focus on healthy living choices. In an effort to promote a healthy living lifestyle and encourage WSU employees to get up and move, the Office of Research partnered with WSU Spokane to host the New Year, New You: Healthy Lifestyle Challenge for 2021, which ran from Jan. 11 – Feb. 7.

The challenge also focused on creating a network of people to interact with during a time when the pandemic has compounded the effects of social isolation.

A planning committee led by Denise Keeton, assistant director in the Office of Commercialization, designed the challenge to encourage participants to make long-lasting healthy lifestyle changes that will continue long after the challenge is over. The committee included Bethany Fruci, chair of the Spokane Wellness Collaborative and assistant to the Vice Dean for Research in the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, Kelsie Lees, development coordinator at WSU Spokane, Levi O’Loughlin, associate director in the Office of Research Assurances, and Brady Ratsch, IT specialist at WSU Spokane.

“As a committee, we not only wanted to encourage participants to get up and move, but we also wanted to provide them a way to interact with more people,” said Keeton. “People tend to focus on news goals for the year in January, so we wanted to provide an activity that would promote health and wellness. Social interaction and self-care is a component of wellness. Now more than ever, finding ways to encourage people to look after their mental state is equally as important as encouraging people to exercise and eat right.”

This is the Office of Research’s second year to host the Health Lifestyle Challenge. After reading an article written by the Office of Research about the experience hosting the first annual challenge, WSU Spokane reached out to the Office of Research to find out if they could get involved.

“We saw the article last year and thought it would be such a fun challenge to participate in,” said Fruci.

The committee broke the 96 participants into 16 teams of six. Participants were placed into teams with colleagues in other departments and locations. While the majority of participants are located in Pullman or Spokane, a few employees participated in the challenge as far away as Seattle, Tri Cities, and Vancouver.

“I purposefully made sure participants of each team were mixed up, so that no two people from one office were placed on the same team. We wanted participants to be out of their comfort zone so that they would interact with other people from other areas,” said Keeton.

Over the course of four weeks, participants had opportunities to earn up to 10 points per day with eight different activities. Among those activities included intentional workouts, drinking half a person’s body weight in ounces of water, getting a minimum of seven hours of sleep, and performing an act of self-care. Participants tracked their points daily on an Excel spreadsheet from Monday through Sunday. At the end of each week, participants were required to submit their trackers by 11:59 p.m. Monday in order to have their points count towards the team’s total.

“It isn’t all about doing workouts and losing weight. We want to encourage people to focus on making healthy choices,” said Keeton.

Once a week, the committee sent out an email to participants with healthy lifestyle tips. These emails also included a chance to earn bonus points for the week. A second email was sent on Fridays announcing a randomly chosen winner for the weekly prize. Participants were eligible for the weekly drawing only if they turned in the previous week’s tracker.

“Our goal was to motivate people to get those points,” said Keeton. “When we started getting the trackers in, we realized that some people had really high scores and some people had lower scores. But everyone was still trying and doing the best they could.”

The committee received positive feedback throughout the challenge. Participants appreciated the opportunity to be able to focus on several different areas of health on top of exercise and diet.

“What’s great about this challenge is the ability to add in some intentionality of making changes throughout the day,” said O’Loughlin. “This challenge really focuses on subtly changing people’s habits and perspectives on healthy living, which could lead to a long-term change.”

Participants were also asked to reach out to other team members and encourage them during the four-week challenge. Team members checked in with other teammates to ask if they achieved their points or if there were areas where they were struggling.

“I know personally for me, being new to WSU and having never worked remotely before, it has been hard to work at home through the pandemic and not have daily in-person interactions with my co-workers,” said Lees. “The Cougar connectivity that came from the challenge with co-workers on the Pullman campus was a big benefit for me. It’s also great to know that you’re working for an organization that supports health and wellness.”

Fruci added, “It’s so important during the pandemic when everyone is working from home and already feels so disconnected to have a platform that encourages added connectivity beyond Zoom meetings.”

At the end of the four weeks, the committee invited all the participants to a celebration ceremony. The top performers and top teams were announced, along with the prizes they won and success stories that were shared from throughout the month.

The challenge received an overwhelming positive response and high participation. Out of the 96 participants, roughly 20 participants are now part of an ongoing group who regularly encourage each other to keep up the progress and continue in their health and wellness goals.

“I’m so impressed about the amount of people that have participated that are continuing the challenge even after it’s over,” said Lees.

As a result, the committee will host the Healthy Lifestyle BINGO challenge April 5-29. The BINGO challenge will again have a wholistic approach to include many different aspects of healthy living. Participants will be sent a BINGO card that is just for them. They will fill in only one tile per day. Tiles could include tasks such as preparing your snacks for the week in advance, reaching out to a friend for support, doing your favorite workout, speaking an affirmation out loud, or taking a sweaty selfie. Once a participant receives a BINGO, their name will be entered into a prize drawing. If someone gets a blackout, they will be entered into a special drawing.

“There seems to be an appetite for people who want to participate in challenges like these,” said O’Loughlin. “There are people that want to do a challenge more than once a year. For this reason, we decided to host a smaller challenge this spring to help keep everyone going, as well as encourage people that didn’t join in January to jump in and try the challenge in April.”

The Healthy Living Challenge initiative is sponsored by the Office of Research and the WSU Spokane Health Sciences Campus.