Christopher Lee walks the equivalent of 716 miles to win the Deans’ Step-It-Up Challenge.

Drew Master of Divinity student Christopher Lee could have made it to Savannah, Ga., with the 1.43 million steps he took last semester to improve his fitness and win the Deans’ Step-It-Up Challenge.

Lee topped 124 students, faculty and staff at the Drew Theological School who got moving to address the serious problem of clergy health in America. Research shows that clergy across denominations have high rates of obesity, heart disease, adult-onset diabetes and depression.

“It’s a vocational problem,’’ said Virginia Samuel, associate dean for Contextual Learning and director of the school’s Center for Clergy and Congregational Health and Wholeness. “Our goal is to help clergy and their congregations and seminary students to have a better commitment to self-care.’’

So in the fall, the deans challenged the school community to take 50,000 steps a week ­– an average of more than 3 miles a day. The school provided basic pedometers and participants recorded their steps each week on a Moodle learning community website.

Nearly half of the pedometer-wearing participants met or surpassed that goal, but more importantly, Samuel said, the culture on campus is shifting. “It’s becoming more accepted – and expected – that people will take care of themselves,’’ she said.

The school community is now signing up for the spring semester Step-It-Up Challenge and the Drew Center for Clergy and Congregational Health and Wholeness is about to launch its website, which will provide guidance for healthy living.

Tracking his steps gave Lee, 32, a new perspective on life. “I never realized how little energy I spent,’’ or how little attention he paid to his overall health, he said. “I thought I could neglect that stuff and take care of it later. But I realize now it’s harder to take care of later.’’

Lee began walking more around campus to relieve stress and digest lessons of the day. Rather than driving into downtown Madison, he walked to the bank and the barbershop. Over the 12 weeks, he walked the equivalent of about 716 miles.

“I’m feeling more balance in my life,’’ he said, although he still prefers fried foods to greens.  “Good health is something you have to keep working at.’’ Lee also confessed that improving his health wasn’t the only reason he walked so much: “A little of it was competitively motivated.’’

Samuel said other participants have told her they feel better and their heads are clearer. “To actually commit and do something is quite liberating,’’ she said.

Lee is using his prize from last semester’s victory ­– a high-end pedometer that tracks all sorts of information – in this semester’s challenge. He figures even if he doesn’t take the most steps, he’ll still be a winner.

“This has been a real eye-opener. You’ve got to take care of what you have so you can help others.’’

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For more on the Theological School’s clergy health initiative, watch the news video “Taking Steps to Boost Clergy Health.”

Posted: February 25, 2011