If you happen to be in or around Boise’s Shadow Hills Elementary School, don’t be surprised if you see teachers walking in place, parking in the back of the school lot, or doing laps around the school. This flurry of perpetual motion is part of a simple, yet extremely important plan for helping teachers take control of their health and well-being.
Brandy Carstensen and Shannon Cullen are two of the most notable advocates of an increased emphasis on fitness, nutrition and health. In Carstensen’s case, more exercise and a healthier diet have made a dramatic difference—she has lost more than 90 pounds and has seen her energy level and attitude both perk up.
“I have two boys at home and I realized that in order to take care of them, I had to take care of myself,” Carstensen says. So she started to become more active, but in a manageable manner. Swimming laps in the pool was one way. Purchasing an elliptical machine for her house with a gift certificate she won through the Boise School District’s wellness plan was another. A Fitbit to monitor her activity was a big help. And bonding with other teachers at Shadow Hills to encourage each other to find opportunities for exercise during the school day made a significant difference.
“I am so very proud of Brandy,” Cullen says. “She has been a great motivator and we are all learning from her. Partly because of the example set by Carstensen, several other teachers now join in on walks around school grounds—made a little easier by the fact that Shadow Hills is a “late start” school with the tardy bell ringing at 9:10 AM. The school also has a health committee geared toward nutrition and fitness for students, which spills over and makes it easier for staff to prioritize their own health.
The Shadow Hills crew also makes use of technology in their pursuit of better health. Fitbits and similar devices that track activity during the day help them meet their daily goals. “If I see that I am not on pace, I will start walking around the classroom during a lesson or find another way to catch up,” says Carstensen. “A little bit of something is better than nothing,” is an important mantra.
Better Diet Makes a Big Difference
Pairing exercise with improved eating habits is the real key to better health for these teachers. “I now look at food as fuel for my body,” Carstensen says. “50-70 percent of my diet is fruits and vegetables, and I try to make most of my meals over the weekend so that I have them ready to go in Tupperware during the school day.” Planning meals ahead of time and then shopping accordingly is also part of the strategy. Healthy recipes can be found in many places online, including Pinterest and Facebook.
“The key is moderation,” notes Cullen. “Look at the portions if you are eating out at a restaurant, and plan to take more home as leftovers.” Starting the day off right is another one of her tactics. “Eat a good breakfast, a bigger meal at lunch, and then eat small meals or light, healthy snacks at night,” she says.
The staff room at school is also a great source of inspiration, support and ideas. “I highly encourage teachers to get out of their rooms and sit in the staff room for lunch,” says Cullen. “We have a lot of discussion about who eats what and the collaboration about diet and exercise helps all of us.”
Fitness and Health: Tips for Teachers (and Everyone Else)
- Start slow and simple. If you are just getting started on changing your health habits, ease into it. Begin with short walks, a quick workout at a gym, a bike ride, or whatever activity you choose. Make gradual changes in your diet, replacing unhealthy foods with vegetables, fruit and protein-rich choices.
- Everything in moderation. You don’t have to deny yourself the foods you really like—just eat less of them.
- Drink lots of water. Good old H2O helps hydrate and keeps you from feeling as hungry. Replace soda with water whenever you can.
- Shop the perimeter. At the grocery store, produce, meats and dairy tend to be in the outer aisles.
- Substitute whole grains. White bread, white rice and similar products are full or preservatives and have very little nutritional value. Try whole wheat or multi-grain versions instead. Quinoa is a great substitute for rice.
- Think leftovers. When eating at a restaurant, plan ahead of time to take some of your food home for leftovers.
- Just keep moving. You don’t have to train for a triathlon—walk whenever you can, take the stairs, go for a bike ride with your family, find simple exercises you can do at home or work. It all adds up in the end to a healthier you.