January is often consumed by new years resolutions, many of them about our health. Establishing good habits can be really hard work. Despite the growing scientific knowledge about our bodies and the best ways to prevent disease, 39% percent of adults worldwide are overweight and 18% are obese (says the World Health Organization as of 2016). Michelle Segar, who graduated from the RC in 1988 with an individualized concentration in socialization and culture, was conducting an exercise study in 1994 during her Masters of Public Health at U-M when she had an "a ha" moment. "I had conducted a study among people who had faced a life-threatening illness, and three months later participants came back for focus groups. Although they spoke positively about being active during the study, I was shocked to discover that most had stopped exercising when it ended. When I asked "why?", they explained that they had returned to their lives - they were too busy; they couldn't make exercise a priority among their many other responsibilities. I was stunned; these people, who had faced death, committed to exercising for a study, but not for their ongoing self-care!" That set Michelle on a course of research and entrepreneurialism that allows her to work directly with individuals to develop systematic methods and messages that help them consistently prioritize their own self-care and adopt healthy behaviors - and stay motivated to sustain them. "My degree from the RC has been pivotal in the nuanced and distinct way I approach behavior change - not in the mind of the individual but in our minds as contextualized within the culture we learned to think about and approach behaviors like exercise as well as our own self-care. This has helped me create one-of-a-kind concepts for the field."
Today, she has a client list that includes both individuals and as well as A-list corporations such as Adidas, Anytime Fitness, Google, Harvard Medical School, and Kaiser Permanente, and she is frequently quoted in the national and international media such as NYT, WSJ, NPR and CNN. She consolidated many of her key findings in the 2015 book "No Sweat" which has been showered with accolades including being named the #1 Diet/Exercise Book by the USA Best Book Awards, ascending to the #1 Exercise & Fitness Book in July of 2015 on Amazon, and being featured in the New York Times. Her methods and communications strategies have been adopted by high-tech and high-touch solutions, such as e-learning diabetes prevention programs and social media-based fitness apps. She serves as the director of the University of Michigan Sport, Health, and Activity Research and Policy Center and her work on creating sustainable behavior change is being adopted internationally. A story featuring her work was recently published by NPR at this link. Michelle also holds a doctorate in Psychology (PhD) and a master’s degree in Kinesiology (MS) from the University of Michigan, in addition to the MPH in Health Behavior/Health Education and RC bachelor's degree.
In the midst of this busy professional life, Michelle prioritizes her family and their self-care. "I married my love in 2002 and we started our family in 2008. We live in Ann Arbor, and bike and walk as our major form of transport." When I ask how her RC education came to bear on her life path, in addition to the way she described above, she says it was the interdisciplinary thinking and the discovery of her own path that stands out. She even admitted to initially failing but then completing RC Spanish, which gave her the confidence to work in Spain with the Olympic Committee in Barcelona after graduating. "I ran with the Olympic torch, too!" Her biggest piece of advice to current RC students is to "challenge yourself not to know what you want to do and set out exploring and experimenting with topics - but make sure you have plenty of fun while you are doing it!" Hear, hear!