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NHLBI 'PALS Up' with Heart Health

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute is practicing what it preaches with an innovative new physical activity program called PALS.

PALS stands for "physical activities and lifestyles" and its goal is to get employees up and moving during the day. PALS was recently launched with two "heart walks," led by NHLBI acting director Dr. Barbara Alving, who created the program. Altogether about 80 employees participated in the walks, which took off from Rockledge 2 and Bldg. 1.

"People need encouragement and support to become more physically active," said Alving. "They need to know that taking the time is all right with their supervisor."

NHLBI acting director Dr. Barbara Alving (front, r) and PALS coordinator and NCSDR director Dr. Carl Hunt (front, c) lead employees on a heart walk from Rockledge II.

"Physical activity is just as important for your health as a good diet and good sleep habits," said Dr. Carl Hunt, director of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research at NHLBI, who spearheads the effort. "Physical activity has many benefits. It helps prevent heart disease, raise HDL cholesterol and control weight and blood pressure. And being physically active during the day helps us sleep better at night."

As part of PALS, every NHLBI employee received a step counter, to help them track their activity level, and the chance to join a PALS walking group. Additionally, PALS has a web page with activity tips, an activity tracking feature and maps to help employees plot heart-healthy walks — outside or in. For instance, those eager to do an air-conditioned, cicada-free mile can take four laps of the distance from Bldg. 31's A wing to its C-wing elevator. Or for another mile, start at the front door of Bldg. 37 and walk four laps around the outside corridor.

Alving (front, c), Hunt (front, r) and Maria Stagnitto (front, l), associate director of the Office of Clinical Affairs in NHLBI's Division of Intramural Research, lead employees on a heart walk around campus.

NHLBI also has set up two LifeClinic Health stations, which can be used by all NIH employees. The stations are located in Bldg. 31, near Rm. 4A10, and in Rockledge 2, next to the 9th floor cafeteria. The easy-to-use stations record blood pressure and weight, and employees can create a confidential web-based record of their results. Further, the stations are stocked with NHLBI publications on such topics as eating to help lower blood pressure, tips to weight loss success and heart-healthy recipes. The publications and resources, such as a BMI calculator and an interactive menu planner, also are available online at

PALS grew out of an NHLBI survey of its employees' physical activity habits and preferences. The survey found that most employees are not physically active during the day and do not belong to the NIH Fitness Center. But, when asked if they would participate in an NHLBI physical activity program, about 90 percent said yes.

NHLBI employees sign up for PALS walking groups.

PALS also fits in with the HHS Steps to a Healthier US Initiative, which promotes finding ways to help Americans make healthy lifestyle choices, including to become physically active. Nationwide, about two-thirds of adults do not engage in a regular leisure-time activity.

"PALS is still evolving," said Alving. "We hope to offer more types of activities for employees in the future. But one thing will stay the same — strong support from the institute so employees will feel encouraged to follow a healthy lifestyle."

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