Virginia Department of Health (VDH) Employees Walk with Ease

According to the 2017 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), 32.7% of people in Virginia reported walking during the month prior to the survey.  Virginia 2017 BRFSS data also showed that 25% of Virginians reported having some form of arthritis, with 49% of those individuals reporting limitations and 65.7% of those with arthritis having their work affected.  Therefore, in addition to increasing physical activity for healthy adults, a walking program could benefit those employees living with arthritic conditions.  Because walking is easiest when it is built into everyday activities and locations where people spend their time such as worksites, the VDH Arthritis Program decided to promote the evidence-based Arthritis Foundation Walk with Ease (WWE) Program.  The challenge was to design and pilot a WWE program for 4,000 health department employees working in the state central office and 35 local health districts spread across 136 cities and counties in the Commonwealth.

VDH began the program by working with the VDH Human Resources Department and the CommonHealth program on how to best implement the program across the state.  Program barriers included the large number of work sites, the number of sites with small numbers of employees, and managing employee time away from work to participate in the program.  In addition to emails sent through CommonHealth, a WWE introductory webinar was recorded and placed on the Virginia TRAIN Learning Network, which allowed employees to learn about the program in their own time.  Opportunities for leaders to be trained were made available prior to the start of the session that ran as six or nine weeks from November 4 to December 20, 2019.  Employees were encouraged to work with their supervisors on how to manage their schedules to accommodate their walking time within the work day.

Although 10 employees were trained as leaders for group WWE workshops in larger worksites, the solution to the challenge of small local worksites was to promote the self-guided program.  Of the 124 employees walking in 25 health districts, 95 preferred the self-guided WWE format.  Using the WWE self-guided format created additional challenges, including the need to start a platform for individuals to receive the program lecturettes and report their progress.  A Mail Chimp application was used and the Oregon Arthritis Program was helpful in providing VDH with the weekly information to send to the self-guided participants.  With the structure in place from the 2019 WWE program, the VDH Arthritis Program is looking forward to more opportunities to make this program available to other state agencies.

The results of the WWE Program have been proven to include managing weight, preventing falls, and reducing the burden of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers, as well as reduce depression and help individuals deal with stress.  Because many people spend a significant amount of their day at work, VDH has shown that a worksite WWE program can offer employees access to opportunities and supports for physical activity, making it easier for them to integrate it into their daily lives, and resulting in employers having the benefit of improving the health of their employees.

One VDH employee stated “We walked as a group Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  The ladies and I bonded over laughter and enjoyed talking about recipes.  We also talked about how much we enjoyed walking and what a difference it made in our lifestyle.”