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Healthy Emory tunnel murals offer inspiring backdrop for employee walks

At first, the unexpected birdcalls lead some newcomers to glance around looking for trapped birds, like those that grace the rafters of some home improvement stores. Then, the realization sinks in that the soothing nature sounds are coming through small, overhead speakers.

The birdcalls are just one sensory element in the winding, underground walkways created by Healthy Emory in the tunnels connecting Emory University Hospital (EUH), Emory Clinic, the Center for Rehabilitation Medicine (CRM) and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston.

A series of five Journey Across Georgia murals were installed in 2014 and 2015 — a project driven by the vision of Cynthia Hall, corporate director for employee health at Emory Healthcare. Each region is depicted through vivid photographs and details about the area, with fitness tips, healthy recipes and suggestions on how to better manage stress.

"For many of our employees, going for a brisk walk outside or running to the gym during the day isn’t always feasible," Hall says. "We also know that health care can be one of the most stressful industries, so having a place where faculty and staff could go to decompress, relax or take a quick exercise break was really important."

The tunnels are open and accessible to all Emory University and Emory Healthcare faculty and staff, with the brightly colored entrance accessible on the first floor of Emory University Hospital, near the Emergency Department entrance. The Healthy Emory team has plotted the length of different routes along the EUH/CRM tunnels to accommodate the individual time and fitness-level needs of tunnel users.

The mural content was developed in collaboration between Healthy Emory and the Emory Healthcare Food and Nutrition Services teams. Each quarter, the murals are updated with new images, recipes, tips and activities that coincide with the season.

The most recent updates included a recipe for butternut squash soup, recommendations on shopping for and preparing winter vegetables, indoor exercises and infection prevention recommendations to help keep winter viruses at bay.

"With Atlanta’s weather as unpredictable as it is, having a space where people can walk without heavy humidity, rain or icy sidewalks is a wonderful resource for people pursuing their individual health goals," Hall says.

Improving fitness through walking

Fitness-minded employees have quickly adopted the tunnels to help them increase their daily steps. Many of those who participated in this fall’s Healthy Emory Move More Challenge credit the tunnels in helping them successfully complete the challenge.

"There was a week in October that it rained a lot," says Kathy Butts Arnold, a research administrator in the Emory School of Medicine. "During that week, I looked for non-rainy periods to step outside and walk for 10-15 minutes and used the EUH tunnel."

Arnold was able to substantially increase her overall activity level by making small but significant changes in her daily activities, such as taking quick 15-minute walks in the mornings and afternoons, walking to meetings instead of taking the shuttle and, she quips, "doing office work and housework inefficiently!" It all added up, and she increased her daily average of 5,000 steps to more than 10,000 steps per day by the end of the challenge.

She also credits the support of friends who encouraged her every step of the way and her own department leadership and team, who served as her personal cheerleaders.

"Don’t go it alone," she says. "Achieving 10,000 steps is something I thought I did not have time for when the challenge started, but with the support of my work department, Weight Watchers and my close friends, it was not as difficult as I had expected."

"Take baby steps," she adds. "Lasting change is made from consistent, daily decisions."

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