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INSPIRE TO MOVE - Gardening is Exercise: Part 2, Your Yard and Beyond
NOURISHING YOU - Baked Chicken Tacos
HEALTHY HARMONY - Mental Health is a Priority
EMPLOYEE SPOTLIGHT - Interview with Colleen Crawford, Communications Associate, System Human Resource Services

Feedback - SOWellness@uillinois.edu
The System Office Wellness Committee strives to cite relevant information from reputable sources. Employees should always consult with their physician before making any kind of health decision or change.

2nd Quarter System Office Wellness Lecture Series Announcement - Photo Credit: Oxana Lyashenko of Unsplash

Join May Bach, Master Gardener and member of the University of Illinois Master Gardener Program Advisory Committee, on Thursday, May 20th, 12:30 – 1:30 PM, for an informative presentation on gardening. May’s presentation will outline a 3-point process for planning your garden and will also touch on the mental and physical health benefits of gardening. Information on how you can attend this event will be coming shortly.


INSPIRE TO MOVE - Gardening is Exercise: Part 2, Your Yard and Beyond

Photo Credit: Priscilla Du-preez, Unsplash - Man gardening 

By Lydia Schillinger
Have you ever experienced the sweet, juicy flavors and smells of fresh, garden-grown fruits and vegetables? There is nothing better, especially when grown in your backyard or community. Whether you are a novice or a seasoned horticulturist, there are a few basic rules of thumb for growing a successful harvest. The health benefits of gardening are impressive. Inspire to Move - Gardening is Exercise (April issue) gives you great examples of how moving in the garden uses those large muscle groups. Whether you are doing the dirty work or leaving that to someone else, you will still reap the many health benefits of gardening.

If you choose to take on a garden of your own, according to the Illinois Extension, make sure to choose the right garden for your space. Gardens may be placed in a sunny area of your yard in the ground, in a raised bed, or in large pots on your patio or deck. Make sure the garden area gets plenty of sun. Six to eight hours of sunlight per day in an area that is not too windy is recommended to keep your plants happy. Once your spot is selected, you will need to prepare it. Choose the right soil when starting your garden. Make certain the soil is nutrient-rich and drains well. Adding organic matter in the form of compost and manure to the soil will help your plants grow.

No matter where you start your garden, remember to start small. To keep your garden maintainable, create a plan before you go to the garden center. Identify what fruits and vegetables you enjoy and then select 3-5 of your favorites. Mix in flowers, such as marigolds, which discourage pests, attract pollinators, and add some color! Visit the Illinois Extension Gardeners Corner Spring 2021 for more gardening tips!

Let someone else do the dirty work. You do not have to be the gardener to reap the health benefits. Taking a stroll through a Springfield, Chicago, Urbana, or Champaign’s farmer’s market or volunteering at a community garden will get you moving. Community Gardens are shared open spaces where participants share in the maintenance and products of the garden. Find a Springfield, Chicago, or Urbana-Champaign community garden in your area or help with one of our campus community gardens. Visit Springfield’s Community Garden, Chicago’s Heritage Garden, or UIUC’s Idea Garden to learn more and see how you can help.

Top 10 Easy Vegetables (Tip: Click on a veggie’s name to see its detailed Growing Guide.)


NOURISHING YOU - Baked Chicken Tacos

 Photo Credit: Masonfit.com with link to baked chicken tacos recipe

Recipe by Leana Coffey
Serves 6

If you like tacos, you are going to love this tasty taco recipe! It comes to you just in time for Cinco de Mayo. Bake these tacos on a wire rack with a cookie sheet on top to ensure they stay closed and sealed while baking. These are great for meal prep or double the recipe to feed a large crowd. Cut down on your cooking time by using rotisserie chicken. This recipe uses a Fajita Chicken and Peppers recipe for the taco filling, but refer to the original recipe for a few other tasty filling options. Enjoy!


  • 6 extra-thin corn tortillas
  • 6 oz. cooked chicken breast, chopped or shredded
  • 3 red and/or green bell peppers
  • 1 medium-sized yellow onion
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 tsp. lime juice
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. garlic
  • ½ cup (56g) shredded cheddar, or other shredded cheese


  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. Cut the chicken breasts into thin strips and add to a resealable container with 1 tablespoon olive oil, chili powder, and lime juice. Evenly coat the chicken and refrigerate to marinate for a few hours, if possible.
  3. Cut the peppers and onions into strips.
  4. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Once the pan is hot, add the peppers, onion, and salt. Stirring often, cook for about 20 minutes until they begin to soften.
  5. When veggies are cooked, create a well and add the garlic. Cook for 30-60 seconds before transferring the veggies to a plate. Optional: squeeze half a lime over the veggies.
  6. Immediately add the chicken to the skillet and cook for 3-4 minutes, making sure the bottoms don’t burn before flipping. Remove from heat and cover. Let the chicken rest for at least five minutes in the pan. Make sure the chicken is cooked through (juices run clear or 165F internal temperature on the largest piece).
  7. Wrap the tortillas in a slightly damp paper towel and microwave for 45-60 seconds, flipping halfway through (this will make the tortillas easier to fold).
  8. Spread the chicken filling on one side of each tortilla, being sure not to over-fill your tacos. If you notice any tearing in the tortillas, you need to microwave the tortillas for another 15-30 seconds.
  9. Place tacos on a wire rack with a baking sheet or flat surface with a bit of weight on top of the tacos to press them down. This prevents the tacos from opening during baking and helps the cheese fully seal the tacos so they stick together after baking.
  10. Bake for 8-12 minutes or until the tortillas are golden brown. Be careful not to burn. If you are having trouble getting them crisp, remove the top baking sheet towards the end of cooking since the tacos will be sealed by then. Using a baking sheet instead of a wire rack on the bottom will take a bit longer.

Nutrition Information (serving size: 1 taco): Calories 193 | Fat 8.5g | Carbs 14g | Protein 30g


HEALTHY HARMONY - Mental Health is a Priority

Photo Credit: Sydney Rae, Unsplash - You Got This 

By Jackie Billhymer
This time last year, we experienced the remote work environment in new and different ways. Kitchens, living rooms, basements, and bedrooms were turned into makeshift office spaces and we were just beginning to realize how much Zoom would become an everyday part of our work life. Whether adjusting to shared home office space with a partner or children studying remotely, or feeling alone and isolated without interaction with others, we all experienced – and continue to experience – an enormous amount of change due to the pandemic. Change can test our coping abilities and affect our mental health and wellness.

May is Mental Health Awareness month and it gives us an opportunity to talk about mental health and the importance of connecting with resources that can support our mental well-being. One of the most important things we can do for mental health awareness is to talk about it. MentalHealth.gov has a website with resources for starting conversations about mental health with family, friends, and communities. There is also information about services and support for mental health issues for people of all ages.

As a University of Illinois employee, there are a number of mental health resources available to you. The Illinois Department of Central Management Services (CMS) has a terrific resource called Be Well Illinois. The website has information and links to all Health Plan resources, as well as educational resources including webinars and podcasts. Several of these resources address mental health topics such as managing stress and burnout and improving your overall well-being. There are also state and university employee assistance programs available to employees who are eligible for the State of Illinois Employees Group Insurance Program (SEGIP). Employees may use sick leave for mental health reasons, as appropriate under the System’s sick leave policies. There are also leave provisions provided by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and American Rescue Plan Act.

Talking about mental health helps shine a light on the fact that getting help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Mental health is a priority. YOU are a priority.



Photo Credit: Matthias Cooper of Pexels - water 

By Christina A. Worthington
The month of May is National Water Safety Month! With the promise of summer comes more time spent near and in the water. Every day, about 10 people are the victims of drowning. Of these, two are children aged 14 or younger. Knowing these tips and best practices can help you prevent tragedy while enjoying water activities this summer and year-round!

Develop swimming skills. It may surprise you to know that most people do not have basic swimming skills. Taking part in formal swimming lessons reduces the risk of drowning among children ages 1-4. Learning these fundamental skills can give kids a leg up on preventing unintentional drowning. However, it is never too late for swim lessons. Check with your local fitness and recreation departments to see what swim and safety lessons are available. 

Wear proper swim attire. Life jackets can save lives! If you are in or around natural water, you have likely been cautioned or required to wear a life jacket. If you are involved in an activity like boating, be aware of where life jackets are located and how they are properly fitted. When swimming, avoid choosing a swimsuit that is similar to the water color. Bright colored and patterned swimsuits can help others identify you in the water if you require help.

Be aware of other factors. Be conscious of other elements that can create more risk while participating in water activities.

  • Avoid alcohol intake before and during swimming, boating, or other water activities.
  • Clear the pool and pool deck of toys so that children may not be tempted to enter the pool area unsupervised.
  • Know the local weather conditions and forecast. Strong winds and thunderstorms can appear extremely quickly.

EMPLOYEE SPOTLIGHT - Interview with Colleen Crawford

Colleen Crawford 

By Seth Yoder

Q. Could you tell us a little about yourself and your role at the University of Illinois?

A. I am a communications associate in System Human Resource Services, and I started in December 2019. Prior to coming to the University of Illinois, I was a personal trainer/fitness instructor for 12 years and was also the Group Fitness Co-Director and Marketing Coordinator at Refinery Gym in Champaign. I am really happy to have been able to incorporate some of my fitness background here at the university through my involvement with the System Office Wellness Committee.

Q. What type of health and wellness activities do you like to incorporate into your life?

A. Because of my background in fitness training, I like to incorporate a wide variety of physical activities in my life. Some of those activities include yoga, strength training and, while I’m not a runner, I do enjoy going on walks with my dogs. When it comes to fitness, I like to explore different types of training. With so many of them being available on-demand, it seems like my options change almost every day. I also place a high value on good nutritional habits without being too focused on hitting certain numbers like with macro diets or excluding certain foods like a Keto diet. My goal is to achieve a balance with my approach to wellness, which requires considering the physical, nutritional, and mental aspects of myself and not necessarily in any particular order.

Q. Do you have any recommendations for fun exercises people can do at home?

A. There are a couple of important things to keep in mind when exercising at home. The first is to be creative. Not everyone is going to have all of the equipment you may find at a gym, so you can consider using household items to replace some traditional gym equipment. For example, if you don’t have dumbbells at home, you could use canned food for your strength training exercises. The second is to find exercises that you enjoy doing and then set realistic expectations for yourself. By taking this approach, you will increase your motivation to exercise because you’ll be doing something you enjoy. As a result, you could find it much easier to reach the goals you set for yourself. Another thing to consider when training from home is to go online and find on-demand training videos. There are a lot of great training videos on YouTube that can help you find the type of workout that fits your schedule and fitness goals. The important thing to consider here is to make sure you do some research. Find out about the fitness program and consult with your physician before you begin any type of extensive workout regimen.

Q. How important is mindset when it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle?

A. When it comes to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, a good mindset can make all the difference. For example, when someone is starting a new workout program to either lose weight or gain strength, a big part of their success will hinge upon their initial outlook. If you are disappointed and frustrated with how you look or feel, you may be setting yourself up for failure before you even start a new workout. If you take the attitude that you are interested in trying something new, you are open to the possibilities, and while it may be uncomfortable at first, you will be far more likely to succeed if you are willing to learn and expand your knowledge and experiences. Similarly, with diet, if you look at a new approach to nutrition as an opportunity to learn about new foods and/or cuisines rather than losing an opportunity to enjoy the types of foods you typically eat, the outcomes more often than not will be positive. It really comes down to how we frame the change. If the change in behavior or attitude is viewed through the lens of opportunity and growth rather than loss and sacrifice, you will not only feel better about the change, it will enable the change to be much more sustainable.

Q. Do you have any advice for people looking to make improvements to their mindset?

A. Anything we want to improve requires practice, discipline, and a lot of patience and self-forgiveness. A good way to start improving mindset is to take one small thing in your life that you would like to improve upon and concentrate on only improving that one thing. For example, if you would like to start going to bed 30 minutes earlier each night, set-up a routine that is practical for you and then start to practice it each day. While practicing this improvement you may have setbacks, but if you are acknowledging your effort when you succeed and recognizing what types of things prevent you from making this improvement, you should be able to ultimately see the benefits from the change. When you have a setback and feel like returning to your old habits, remember that you decided to make a change for a reason - your old habits were not contributing to your overall feeling of wellbeing. While making changes may be difficult and slipping into old routines seems easy in the moment, your perseverance through challenge will be rewarded. The key is to remember you are not trying to overhaul your mindset in one day, week, or month; you are building a practice that will continue to evolve throughout your life.