The new UI Wellness Center director has one main goal for her new position: making wellness accessible to everyone on campus.
Previously a research coordinator in the College of Applied Health Sciences, Michelle Guerra became director of the center in January.
In addition to creating a comprehensive strategic plan that will begin in mid-2011, Guerra wants to help people understand what wellness is: a holistic well-being that encapsulates much more than physical fitness.
“If you’re truly well, there’s balance in your life,” she said.
The center – in the Activities and Recreation Center – brings together a coalition of many campus resources, including nutrition programs, Campus Recreation programs, services from the Faculty/Staff Assistance Program and other tools that help alleviate stress and help those who are looking to be more centered, Guerra said.
Maximizing the quality of your life, regardless of physical condition, can include financial well-being, as well as emotional well-being.
“It’s not about being perfect, or reaching a certain destination,” she said, but rather about maintaining overall health.
The center, whose services are free to employees and do not require a campus rec membership, has traditionally been mostly an office space and referral service to other resources, but Guerra would like to turn it into a more inclusive resource that reaches a larger population.
Referring to statistics from the Illinois Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, Guerra said that area residents have a way to go toward gaining healthy habits.
The public health moderate physical activity guideline refers to moderate intensity exercise for 30 minutes at a time five times per week. Only 40.4 percent of Champaign County residents, according to the Illinois BRFSS, meet the standard. The survey shows that 28 percent of Illinoisans don’t get any exercise.
“What we’re missing is being able to reach the … people who are not there yet,” she said.
People struggle with work-life balance, weight management and many other issues, she said.
Over the next year, she’ll develop surveys to find out what kinds of things faculty and staff members would like to see at the center – and what resources best meet their needs in the long run.
Currently the center offers programs such as the Laughter Group, which teaches techniques about the body’s natural relaxation response, and the Cookbook Club, which reviews a different cookbook each month and samples a recipe in the center’s instructional kitchen at the club’s meeting. On Wellness Wednesdays, staff members offer mini-seminars on a variety of topics, some related to physical health such as nutritional talks while others are about financial topics such as debt management.
Guerra hopes to add to the list in the next year.
“We’ll create an interest survey and find out what (faculty and staff members and students) want in a wellness program and where they want them delivered,” she said.
Guerra, who has worked various places as a fitness expert, said she sympathizes with people who haven’t found their exercise niche.
“I have a heart for all the people who are not the jocks of the world,” she said.
She didn’t like competitive sports as a kid, describing herself as a “tall, skinny kid more interested in books and drama” than anything in gym class.
Her first foray into exercising by choice was at the advice of a choral instructor from her high school who advised her singing group that one way to maintain a good voice is to have a physically fit body.
That day, she went home, put on jogging shorts and went for a run. It was the beginning of a new passion, she said.
Her goal is to awaken that desire in others – whether they’re physically active or not.
Guerra also has served as the wellness director of Provena United Samaritans Medical Center in Danville and worked at Human Kinetics Publishing Inc., in Champaign, where she coordinated efforts with the Cooper Institute to write books about healthy eating and lifestyles. She also served as the associate director of the Fitness and Lifestyle Improvement Program at Dartmouth College.