University of Louisville President Dr. James Ramsey Makes Fitness a Priority

University of Louisville President Dr. James Ramsey Makes Fitness a Priority

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The University of Louisville has experienced many changes over the years. The addition of new research facilities, new athletic stadiums, dormitories, and state of the art classrooms are just a few. Even when it comes to fitness students are now given a variety of opportunities to stay active on campus. From the racquet ball courts and weight facilities in the student center to the walking track and sand volleyball court along Floyd Street , it is not hard to find students actively involved throughout the day.

But those facilities are no longer encouraged purely for student use. After initiating the Get Healthy Now Program, a program designed to promote wellness and reduce health insurance cost, University faculty and employees are also encouraged to take a more active role in living a healthy lifestyle. And it''s not just professors, campus employees, and administration. It''s even become a priority for the University''s leader, President Dr. James Ramsey.

Almost 18 months ago, Dr. Ramsey received some startling news after his annual physical. It was the type of news that forced him to reevaluate his everyday behaviors and consider making changes for himself.

“The doctor told me that I was basically a heart attack waiting to happen,” said Ramsey. “She told me I was overweight, my blood pressure was bouncing around, and I needed to make a change in my lifestyle. The results shocked me.”

As a result of that physical, Dr. Ramsey became more aware and actively involved in the University''s Get Healthy Now program and what it had to offer. The program, which is an employee health management program, is designed to provide university employees with the tools to take an active role in maintaining personal health while also reducing the cost of health benefits. Employees are given the opportunity to evaluate his or her personal health risks and receive education and direction on how to overcome those risks. The goal is for employees to take more responsibility in staying healthy.

With UofL''s self-insurance health care plan, employees pay a premium for only the services required. If the insurance premium rises then that means more insurance benefits are being used. The logic is that if more people are focusing on promoting wellness and practicing healthy habits, then the less insurance benefits one needs. Employees are even rewarded for being active in the program by receiving a $20 discount per month on the cost of health benefits.

As part of the program, Dr. Ramsey took the required on-line health care assessment and began to learn about his own health risks. That assessment helped outline the necessary steps he would need to get back on the path to wellness. For President Ramsey, that meant exercise and changing his diet.

“I used to drink 10 diet (soft drinks) a day and eat a lot of sweets. I had to cut back on the sweets and cut out the caffeine. I started to eat in moderation, more fruits and vegetables and less red meat,” said Ramsey.

Dr. Ramsey also incorporated exercise into his daily routine. He started running which led to another program called “Run with the President.” Every Monday afternoon students and university employees were invited to join Dr. Ramsey for a three mile run around campus or the local parks. The program attracted anywhere from 15 to 75 people consisting of faculty and students, sometimes even the Air Force ROTC students and women''s soccer team.

Although the program led Dr. Ramsey in the right direction he soon learned it wasn''t enough to achieve his personal health goals or make a significant difference in his overall wellness.

“We went on one run in Cherokee Park while it was still summer,” said Ramsey. “The heat and the hills almost killed me. We got to Hogan''s Fountain and it wasn''t too bad running downhill. Then at the end of the run we started to run straight up hill. I was so embarrassed. I couldn''t run it. I had to stop and walk.”

From that point on Dr. Ramsey decided that he needed to take his health and getting into shape more serious. But finding time for exercise can be hard when meetings tie up most of the day and university functions take up most of the evenings. In order to make exercise a priority, Ramsey decided to have his secretary schedule it on his calendar just as he does all the priorities of his job.

“I schedule my runs just like a meeting,” said Ramsey. “At four o''clock about three times a week I have a scheduled workout. I''m ready to go to work in the morning and I have a lot of events at six o''clock in the evening. I could do it at lunch but I find it easier to exercise in the late afternoon.”

By the start of late fall 2005, Dr. Ramsey started to run between four and five miles a day up to almost five times a week. He also started to keep a record of his miles, running almost 20 miles a week. Last year his goal was to run 1,000 miles in a year. He came up just short by running only 890 miles. This year he hopes to push though those extra 110 miles and reach that 1,000 mile goal in 2007.

Dr. Ramsey''s commitment and hard work paid off as he lost a total of 30 pounds in only three months. By simply eating better foods, cutting out sweets and caffeine, and exercising consistently, he was able to make a considerable change in his overall health.

“I weighed over 250 pounds but never really felt that heavy,” said Ramsey. “When I lost the 30 pounds I had more energy and felt better. I felt better about myself.

“Running is a great stress reliever for me. I like to also play golf and tennis but those things are hard to do in just an hour and twenty minutes.”

By scheduling exercise into his busy schedule and making it part of his everyday routine, Dr. Ramsey has definitely made a lifestyle change that works for him and has also yielded positive results. Not only has he lost weight and gotten back in good physical condition, but he has also reduced his previous high blood pressure level. Dr. Ramsey now monitors his blood pressure regularly. Since he began exercising in 2005 his blood pressure has been stable and hasn''t required medication.

At 58 years of age, Dr. Ramsey realizes he may not be the athlete he was 30 years ago running in races and mini-marathons, but he is still focused on saying fit and taking care of his health. Whether it''s running near Bardstown Road and Grinstead Drive or strolling through Tyler Park, Dr. Ramsey makes sure at least a few days of exercise are scheduled on his calendar every week. Even when he''s out of town, Dr. Ramsey packs his running clothes just as did while in Miami , Florida for the University of Louisville football game in the Orange Bowl.

“I used to be fixated on running everyday and improving my time,” said Dr. Ramsey of the past. “Now I don''t worry about all that. I just try to take better care of myself.”

Through scheduling and making fitness a habit, Dr. Ramsey is no longer the health risk he was almost 18 months ago. He may not worry about speed or obsess about weight, but it''s clear to see that Dr. Ramsey has made a choice to make healthy living a priority. Just ask him about the hill in Cherokee Park that forced him to stop and walk and the story now changes.

“I can run that hill now.”

Kim Brohm is a graduate of Spalding University with a B.A. in English where she was a three-sport athlete. Kim has an MBA from the University of Louisville . E-mail address is kimbrohm@hotmail.com.

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