Calvin's Healthy Habits Driven By Alumnus

December 27, 2007
| By Pete Daly |
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The practical application of healthy habits has come full circle at Calvin College, which recently named Roy A. Zuidema its first director of campus wellness. Zuidema is a 1979 Calvin grad with many years of experience delivering health-promotion programming to corporate clients.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in physical education from Calvin, he earned a master’s degree in exercise science from the University of Michigan. He then worked for two years at Floyd Junior College (now Georgia Highlands College) in Rome, Ga.

“I taught and established a wellness program for the college and the community,” he said.

Zuidema then returned to West Michigan and entered the corporate world, working for the next 23 years for The Wellness Center of West Michigan. The center, which specializes in starting and managing wellness programs for medium- and large-sized companies, was founded by Metropolitan Hospital (then called Grand Rapids Osteopathic Hospital). Butterworth Hospital, now a part of Spectrum Health, purchased a 50 percent interest in 1986. Since 2005, it has been owned and operated by Priority Health.

During his years at The Wellness Center, Zuidema helped deliver health care promotion programs to more than 500 clients, including Alticor Inc., Bissell Inc. and Steelcase. He developed screening programs for high blood pressure and high cholesterol, as well as health, exercise, weight loss, stress management and tobacco cessation classes for his corporate clientele.

“My biggest theme was always that wellness needs to be integrated into our health care delivery system,” Zuidema said.

He is now responsible for Calvin’s Healthy Habits program for faculty and staff, which will be based in the new fitness center in the college’s $49.5 million Spoelhof Fieldhouse Complex.

“I went from academia to business and back to academia again,” Zuidema said. “I’m loving the academia.”

Zuidema said he is impressed with the growth of what is now the HPERDS department, which stands for health, physical education, recreation, dance and sport. “Back when I graduated, it was just the PE department,” he joked.

Zuidema encourages the Calvin community to achieve a new level of fitness.

“Calvin has gotten high marks as an academic institution,” he said. “I’d like to see that we’re also known as one of the healthiest campuses in the country.”

Over time, he said he hopes to increase the number of faculty and staff enrolled in the already successful aerobics, water aerobics, pilates, exercise ball and other Healthy Habits offerings. His goal is to see at least 80 percent participation from the 687 faculty and staff members.

This fall a “Pedometer Challenge” was completed, in which 220 participants kept track of how much they walked every day. Altogether, they covered a distance equal to twice around the world at the equator. Just completed was “Hold It For the Holidays,” which challenged participants not to gain weight during that time. Before the start of the holidays, each participant put $10 in the pot and weighed in. They weighed in again after the holidays, with those who didn’t gain weight sharing the pot.

If an organization sets a goal to reduce its employees’ health risks and their health care costs (which will also help increase productivity through less absenteeism), those employees have to participate in some sort of group effort, said Zuidema.

“If you can get people to participate, research shows you will get positive outcomes. So how do I get people to participate? What we see from the research of the last 25 years is — incentives. It’s human nature; people need incentives to change behavior.”

And the best incentive? “Cash is king,” said Zuidema.

In 2007, faculty and staff at Calvin could earn an extra $200 a year by meeting their Healthy Habits guidelines, said Zuidema. Starting in January, he added, “We will be offering quarterly incentives of $75 — or the potential of earning an extra $300 annually — for meeting our Healthy Habits guidelines.” HQX

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