By Harry Minium

The pandemic wasn't good for the physical or mental health of millions of Americans. We spent much more time indoors, often worked from home, ordered more delivery food than ever and didn't work out because gyms were closed.

An American Psychological Association study found that 61% of Americans reported gaining an average of 29 pounds since March 2020. Other studies found that depression and anxiety also increased among all age groups during the pandemic.

Now that most facilities in America have reopened, one of the best ways to help both your physical and mental health is to get out of your office and homes and walk outside.

Old Dominion University's human resources department is endeavoring to make that easier for faculty, students, staff, alumni, the military community and residents from the nearby Lamberts Point, Larchmont and Highland Park neighborhoods.

With the blessing of September Sanderlin, vice president of human resources, Kim Butler, JaRenae Whitehead and Brenda Johnson have led an effort to create at least three walking trails around campus.

Eventually, thanks to John Hasher and Chad Peevy from ODU's facilities and grounds management, all the trails will be marked with signs.

They are calling it the Monarch Wellness Trail Program. Twice a month, human resources will sponsor three group walks a day - at 7 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. The theory is that before work, during the lunch hour and right after work are the most convenient times for ODU employees to get out of the office and walk off some calories.

They have dubbed the group walks "Monarchs in Motion."

About 65 ODU employees, family members and the Monarch spirit squad participated in the first walk on Sept. 10. Generally, the walks will be held on the 10th and 25th of each month, unless those dates fall on a weekend.

Johnson, assistant director of human resources for benefit services, has wanted ODU to have walking trails for years. She said Butler, a benefits administrator, put together an application in a few days that led to a $2,000 grant from Town-N-Gown.

Town-N-Gown is an independent association that has a grant system designed to help develop mutual understanding between ODU and the region's civilian and military communities.

The $2,000 will be used to mark the trails with signs. The organizers aim to have three walking trails marked by the end of the fall semester. Butler said officials at ODU's Virginia Beach campus have also expressed interest in setting up a trail.

The first trail extends 7/10 of a mile around S.B. Ballard Stadium. The two others will extend about 1 to 1.5 miles.

"We hope to get people moving," Butler said. "This is all about wellness and bringing the campus community together, as well as the surrounding communities. We want everyone to be included, including our military community."

They hope to eventually distribute trail maps and have QR codes that will allow walkers to access a map with a cell phone.

Studies show that organizations with wellness programs have healthier, happier and more productive employees.

"This is going to help people with stress relief," said Whitehead, an assistant vice president for human resources. "Getting outside the building and walking is good for you. And being able to do that with a group we hope will entice people to do it."

"It's just a good way to get people moving and exercising," Johnson added. "I'm one of those people who needs to walk. I've been trying to inspire myself."

Butler said that she and others have cautioned people to start slowly.

"We're trying to keep the trails manageable and reasonable, especially if this is the first time for someone getting out," she said. "The more experienced walkers, they can get out and walk a trail as many times as they would like."

Among the 65 walkers on that first day were members of the military, alumni, employees and students, and that was just in Butler's family. Her father, Alan Moser, is a retired Navy captain; her mother-in-law, Christine Butler, graduated from ODU in 1973 and her husband, Bruce Butler Jr., graduated in 1996 while son Bruce Butler III is a senior.

"We've done this in an intentional way so that we don't miss any part of our population," Johnson said. "And Kim's family certainly represented that."

To register to begin walking, CLICK HERE. For more information, email Butler at

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