Valerie Morrison, DBA, MSA, BSN, RN, NEA-BC
Make it work for you and your lifestyle. That’s the main message from Dr. Valerie Morrison, who has spent years modifying her diet and exercise habits for each stage of life.
Prior to college, Valerie used tap dance and yoga to decompress. She also danced classical ballet and learned to appreciate dance as a form of aerobic exercise.
In college, a work-study program at the University of North Florida Student Wellness Complex taught Valerie about body-mass-index (BMI), obesity, and the human body’s need for physical activity. This deeper understanding helped Valerie focus on workouts and running regimens that kept her moving.
After graduating college, Valerie entered the U.S. Navy. During this stage of life, she found she had to maintain her fitness level in order to pass physical readiness tests every 6 months. This was just one more reason to prioritize exercise.
A Change in Motivation
In 2012, Valerie was diagnosed with olfactory neuroblastoma (cancer of the nerves that affect smell). She had surgery and 6 weeks of radiation treatments. This point in time had a major impact on her approach to health and wellness.
“I had no family history of cancer, and I learned my cancer was mostly caused by environmental risk factors, not genetics,” said Valerie. “This set me on a new journey of ‘Why did I get this and how can I prevent it from happening again?’”
Her revelation led to a change in diet and a greater appreciation for how nutrition impacts health. She stopped drinking sodas and learned how foods can change the inflammation levels in the body. This prompted her to become vegan and eat a plant-based diet.
Next, Valerie took a deeper look at her family’s health history, which included:
- High blood pressure
- Reliance on medications
“I decided to do what I could to maintain my health and not have to go on any medications,” said Valerie.
The Next Level
Despite all of this, Valerie found herself asking: What else can I do to maintain my health? She realized what she thought she needed to do to be fit wasn’t necessarily accurate. Her fears and preconceptions were holding her back — she could do much more than she thought. That’s when she joined a local YMCA and worked up the courage to try a high-intensity group exercise class.
Her newfound love of strength training paid off. Valerie ran the Marine Corp Marathon — twice! She also started home workouts which included yoga programs, online tap classes, and more. The COVID-19 pandemic may have closed her gym, but she doesn’t let that stop her from staying active.
Over the years, Valerie has come to understand the health and wellness challenges that medical professionals face. Her advice:
- Make it work for you and your lifestyle. Don’t compare yourself to others and don’t let the mindset of “I need to be in a gym for hours to get fit” hold you back.
- Start with something. Even if you only do a 5-minute workout, that’s still something to get your body moving. Start somewhere and work your way up.
- Keep it fun. If it’s something you feel like you have to do, you won’t feel inspired to continue. Adapt your exercise to fit what you enjoy in the moment.
- Believe in the value of network. Having friends to work out with is so motivating. Valerie gets together with a group of friends to walk every weekend. Find a group to support you as you exercise.
Valerie Morrison, DBA, MSA, BSN, RN, NEA-BC, is Director of Student Health Services at University of North Florida.
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