Be Fit Pitt Boosts Activity Levels through Virtual Workouts

“Look for something positive in each day, even if some days you have to look a little harder.”

This advice is given by Renee Rogers right before a Be Fit Pitt ‘’Make it Happen Morning” workout is set to begin at 7:30 a.m. on a recent Monday morning.

Rogers, the programming director of the Healthy Lifestyle Institute (HLI) at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education, is joined by her Be Fit Pitt team members on the workout. They give workout pointers, offer words of motivation, and share information on modified movement options for those with limited mobility.

No gym membership is required for this premium workout. A Zoom link is all that is required.

Since early April, Be Fit Pitt has been offering live virtual workout sessions to keep the University of Pittsburgh community active in a time of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The live-streamed workout sessions are being offered four times per day, five days per week. They can be accessed through the HLI webpage on the University calendar.

The Physical and Mental Benefits of Exercise

“We have long known that physical activity is a positive way to enhance the immune system,” said Rogers, who leads the virtual workouts through Be Fit Pitt. “Staying active and getting exercise has been recommended by our public health officials as we consider ways to remain healthy amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Pitt staff, faculty, students, alumni, and members of the broader community have been participating in the workouts since they began.

“The sessions actually fit into my workday really well,” said Thomas Bost, director of grants at the School of Education. “They are extremely convenient, very easy to follow, and are both fun and challenging. I really do feel so much better mentally and physically when I get up from the computer and move during the day, and these sessions are an easy way to accomplish that.”

Medical experts agree that taking short physical activity breaks from work and class is especially beneficial during a time of isolation, which for many is increasing their sedentary behaviors, raising anxiety levels, and stinting productivity.

“Getting up and taking screen time breaks is important for our posture and to give our eyes a break from the screen,” said Rogers.

The remote work and schooling environment is also presenting additional obstacles that make it more difficult for people to exercise.

“This remote world that social distancing has created makes it tougher to exercise, even for the most fit individual,” said Aaron Pifer. He is a master’s student in the school’s Health and Physical Activity Programming and Promotion program and one of the on-screen leaders during the live-streamed workouts. “One of our goals through this initiative is to break down these barriers to allow our Pitt family to participate in an activity that can still be a part of everyday life,” said Pifer.

A Look Behind the Scenes

Significant work happens behind the scenes to support each Be Fit Pitt live-streamed workout. The workouts occur four times a day, Monday through Friday. 

Every workout is based on a newly developed routine. There are three on-screen demonstrators, with each performing a modified version of an exercise. Furthermore, Be Fit Pitt members manage a live chat for questions, solve technical difficulties, prep the live-stream, and monitor the closed-captioning.

The Be Fit Pitt team consists of Health and Physical Activity graduate students in the School of Education.

Syndey Cavallaro, a master’s student in the school’s Clinical Exercise Physiology program, leads the efforts with her classmates.

“Before every stream, everyone meets before we start the broadcast,” said Cavallaro. “We run through the on-screen setup and lighting, test the music and closed captioning, and run through the workout. It is super important that we are all on the same page before the stream begins.”

The team is also responsible for managing social media and the Be Fit Pitt website. Be Fit Pitt has a YouTube channel with pre-recorded workouts that can be accessed anytime. There are plans to add recordings of the live-streamed workouts to the YouTube channel.

PhD student of the Exercise Physiology program Zack Wilson serves as a senior staff member to mentor graduate student assistants and create content for the workouts.

“One of the biggest lessons I’ve ever learned in this profession is that just because you make a workout or exercise, it doesn’t mean that it will work for everyone,” said Wilson. “These sessions fit with that notion as we are providing multiple variations for people to pick and choose which exercises fit their ability levels.”

Learning and Helping Together

The initiative has improved the mood and health of the University of Pittsburgh community. It has also been a significant learning experience for students on the team. They are learning to think about physical activity in a digital space and how different that is than the in-person environment.

“We have been building to this capacity in the Healthy Lifestyle Institute over the past few years and that allowed us to have the infrastructure to be able to pivot quickly to adapt this to what we are delivering in response to the COVID-19 crisis,” said John Jakicic, founder and director of the HLI and a Distinguished Professor at the School of Education.

“This is also a real team effort between faculty, staff, and students with a common goal in mind. They are truly a great team and the hours and effort that they have put into this has been extraordinary,” said Jakicic.

Be Fit Pitt is reminding people to care for their bodies, minds, and each other during these challenging times.

“Being an on-screen leader, I am exercising from my living room while practicing safe social distancing,” said PhD student in the Exercise Physiology program Audrey Collins. “It is encouraging to know that although I am exercising by myself in my living room, that I am not alone. Many members of our community are facing similar challenges, providing me with a sense of unity as we forge ahead together.”