21 November 2019

Vitality initiatives from and for UM staff

Maastricht University wants to become a Healthy University: a university that promotes health and wellbeing in all its activities and programmes. The first steps were taken with the Vitality Works project for staff members. Dr. Dennis de Ruijter (FHML) is project leader of Vitality Works, which offers staff members the opportunity to submit proposals for initiatives that stimulate staff members to move more and sit less. In addition to that, Nadine Chudy (UM Sports) coordinates a broad offer of activities for staff. All focused on short exercise and relaxation moments.

“We start with one aspect of wellbeing,” says Dennis de Ruijter, “and that is moving. We call on staff members, preferably with their team, to submit proposals for ways to get people at UM to move more. We have to receive these plans before 1 December. They will then be evaluated by a sounding board that decides which plans can be honoured with a maximum of € 1.500 to realize them. The selected plans will be executed in the spring of 2020 at the latest. We assume that successful plans can be repeated in the future. “The initiatives can range from playful actions to get people to take the stairs, to buying, for example, cycling pedals that can be shared by an entire department.”

Other way around

Nadine Chudy of UM Sports acts the other way around: she brings exercise and relaxation to the people. “For many years already, we offer the Health and Fitness programme, a 15 minute energizer break in your workplace. The instructor comes to your department and tries to get you and your colleagues to be active with your team and to break out of your sedentary behaviour. It’s all about having fun with others and to refresh physically and mentally.” In the context of Vitality, four programmes have been added. One is Yoga at your Desk that allows groups of staff members to carry out relaxing movements on their work floor. “So, not to give energy, but to release tension,” says Nadine Chudy. “Yoga at your Desk has just been completed, but I hope we can start again soon in 2020. You see, we already receive many requests from people for a new series. Besides these two programmes, we offer Sports for Staff, sports activities exclusively for staff members and Move More, Feel Better, a ten-week coaching programme for everyone who needs help in the field of exercise. You can register for Move More, Feel Better from 21 November onwards. And then there is Mom in Balance for women, which we offer with 50% discount to UM staff members."

Dr. Dennis de Ruijter (photo Appie Derks)


Vitality Works chooses a different approach, namely bottom-up. Initiatives that were submitted by staff members, because research shows that this is the most successful way. De Ruijter: “I mainly address this project as a researcher. My ambition is to understand why certain initiatives work and how we can best approach these. Vitality Works is not only evidence-based, but also evidence generating. The outcomes of this research will provide new scientific material. Best practices can also be applied in other places at UM and maybe even some day at other educational institutes.” Members of a ten-person sounding board from very diverse expert areas will evaluate the submitted initiatives. They are experts in the field of health promotion, movement, sustainable employability, social medicine, evolutionary biology, but also in the area of digital tools that were developed to stimulate movement, such as activity trackers and monitors.

For everyone

A Healthy University cares for everyone’s physical and mental wellbeing. It would be fantastic if vitality initiatives will spill over to students. “And later on also to patients and visitors at the MUMC+,” adds Dennis de Ruijter. “You see, Vitality is a programme of UM and MUMC+ together.  Now already, students benefit from this project. Healthy and well-balanced staff members are better teachers, study advisors, information desk officers, you name it... We are in close contact with Healthy Sidney University and learn a lot from their approach. We took over their themes and will start working on the projects Eat Better and Mental Wellbeing after this first pilot. Healthy Universities are commonplace at Anglo-Saxon universities. We hope we can also proudly present that predicate in a while.”

“It was outstanding to experience employees` keen engagement in the project. One of my favourite moments occurred when one of the participants forgot to put her shoes back on and walked out the room on socks. I highly value that we lived up to participants` expectations and that almost everyone left with a refreshed and relaxed face. This success was the result of great teamwork with UM SPORTS’.

Annika Gutsche of Yoga at your Desk


Nadine Chudy
By: Margot Krijnen