What Are You Working On?

What Are You Working On? is an ongoing series aimed at getting to know exceptional UBC staff and faculty who are doing anything but the typical day to day as they contribute to making UBC an inspiring place to be.

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Christina Sequeira

Christina Sequeira

“Train hard, but smart” is Christina Sequeira’s motto when it comes to fitness. And for her — fitness is all the time. Sequeira is program manager at the UBC BodyWorks Fitness Centre in Vancouver. She’s a certified clinical exercise physiologist and holds both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Kinesiology from UBC. She strives to create a multidisciplinary approach to health care and emphasizes the importance of communication between health practitioners when shaping patient care. Her talent, charisma and unique collaborative philosophy on health, make her an important voice in injury and disease prevention at UBC.

UBC Communications and Marketing had a chance to talk with Christina and ask her about her work.


Have you always known you wanted to pursue Kinesiology?

CS: I’ve always known I wanted to do something in the area of health. At an early age, with thanks to my mom, I was always surrounded by physical activity.  She was part of the 25 Year Club at UBC at the time of retirement from the Department of Athletics and Recreation. I also remember back when I was six or seven at my aunt’s house, she would always be watching aerobics videos on TV. I would say: “Aunt I want to do that when I grow up!” So I suppose I was generally headed in that direction from early on. Then as my grandma began to get older and I saw her health decline, I always thought of tying in exercises in my visits to help maintain her independence and allow her to age in place at her own home. I started to explore the idea of specializing in exercise and health with older adults. In my undergrad I started as an instructor and personal trainer working with the Changing Aging Program, which quickly evolved into a management role.


How did you end up at BodyWorks?

CS: I started working for BodyWorks in 2004 when the School of Kinesiology took over the Changing Aging Program, a program that is still quite well known in the community. Prior to that I was the Manager of the Changing Aging Program under the Department of Athletics and Recreation. It was a seamless opportunity to continue what I was doing under a new department.


As the ‘Clinical Exercise Physiologist’ at BodyWorks, what do you do in your typical day-day work?

CS: I am really fortunate in that I have a really good blend of work! I manage the daily operations at the fitness facility as well as work on development initiatives on and off campus. My day would generally involve meeting with a few clients for an intake or consultation session. I look at what their health is like, what their goals are, what their current physical activity is like. I figure out the most suitable fitness plan for them whether it’s one that involves BodyWorks, or something they can do in a community near their home.

I have a great time meeting with clients and assessing their needs. It’s rewarding being involved in incorporating physical activity into their busy lives. Then of course I also get exposure with the student staff. As the clinical exercise physiologist I am always there for the students to vet their exercise programs they are creating for their clients and talk about their fitness class program and how it is in alignment with our philosophy. We tie in as many athletic training principles when creating the program but also balance it out with modifications that allow us to focus on injury and illness prevention.


In terms of awareness towards injury and disease prevention, what is a piece of advice you tell your clients who come to BodyWorks?

CS: I really emphasize that they should go at their own pace. You know, start off pretty modestly with the exercise program, and give their body a day or two to respond to the exercise. If it’s going well continue on, but also keep in mind athletic training principles. We do need to see how we can work on progressive overload for the exercises prescribed. We don’t want individuals to plateau. We want to ensure the exercises prescribed are specific enough in nature so there is a high degree of transference from what we are doing in the fitness centre and what their needs are in everyday living.


Why do you think collaboration between Kinesiologists and health care practitioners is important?

CS: It’s so important to take a multidisciplinary approach to health. Whether it’s involving dietitians, physicians, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, chiropractors, and other such therapists — all of these key figures that can be part of an individual’s life are important to consider when you are creating an exercise program for someone. We need to know what type of precautions and limitations to address and having as much information as possible allows us to create a better product so the client can achieve their goals within a reasonable amount of time.

Kinesiologists can play an important role in preventative medicine. There are many health screening measures that Kinesiology students are trained in that aren’t necessarily being utilized or applied on a larger scale. For example, performing health screens, looking at risk factor modification and taking blood pressure prior to entering a fitness program. Kinesiologists can help prevent some conditions from developing so patients can stay out of hospital emergency rooms and physician waiting rooms.


You do amazing work advocating for patients and being a consultant for government and non-government organizations. Could you tell us more about that experience and how it has impacted your career?

CS: That experience has been really valuable in terms of being able to support older adults and sedentary populations — individuals who want to improve their health and quality of life and maintain their mobility. The work I do involves being on certain advisory networks, at one point for the Ministry of Health and now currently, for Vancouver Coastal Health. Patients and the public can get together and help guide decisions on policies and aid in projects that are on the go in the community. I come from a patient and client lens so I try to speak on behalf of certain challenges patients experience in the community. For instance, how we can better connect hospital and community-based rehabilitation care with community fitness-based post-rehabilitation care.


What is your approach to fitness?

CS: I suppose it would be to train hard but smart. It’s important to know your limitations and go through those preliminary checks that are needed. Know not to commit yourself to more than you can handle.


What kind of hobbies/activities do you try to incorporate in your life?

CS: As of late, my hobbies are generally comprised of chasing my four and a half and seven year old around the house! I found for a while it was really challenging to get structured physical activity in but my husband and I adopt activity into our weekly schedule as best we can. We put loud music on and dance. We live really close to a park so having that green space nearby makes it a lot easier to build in that physical activity during a time in my life where it is challenging to fit in gym time. But now that they are busy I’m slowly getting back in the routine now. We play a casual game of weekly soccer or basketball with my staff at BodyWorks, so that’s really fun. It’s just a matter of getting in the routine at the fitness centre.


What is a memorable moment working at BodyWorks?

CS: I think from a client perspective it would definitely be the times when I am able to see a particular client improve their fitness to the point where their quality of life changes. When they no longer need a walker or a cane and they’re able to walk on their own. When they develop that strength and also that confidence that comes with it. To be able to see them be a lot more mobile, do what they want, move the way that they wish, not be bound by a crutch or a walker. It’s so liberating to see how happy they are.


What is one aspect of your career you are most proud of?

CS: You know, I would have to say it’s helping make an impact in people’s lives. Whether it’s reaching out to students, or the public, just being a part of the puzzle to help them reach their full potential is highly rewarding. When it comes to students and preparing them professionally for their careers, giving them the practical skills to be successful is really rewarding. From the public standpoint, helping people improve their quality of life with the assessments we run and prescription of exercise we offer, that would be something I am most proud of.


Who has inspired you during your career?

CS: When I was in Kinesiology in my undergrad, I had the opportunity to work closely with an influential individual that used to work for the Department of Athletics and Recreation named Sonya Lumholst-Smith. She was my mentor throughout my undergrad as I was working for the Changing Aging program, which she developed. She always had this vision to work with older adults and provide specialized exercise programs for them. I want to attribute so much of the program’s success and my success with the vision she started with in 1998. I was fortunate to work with her for a long time and she really did plant the seed for me in terms of being aware of the growing needs of this special population out there and how there was a need for specific fitness programs for them.

I knew that this was a population I wanted to work with and luckily over the years as the healthcare system and health professionals have become more privy of the idea of adopting exercise into health, I’ve been able to move in the direction of integrating Kinesiologists with preventative medicine. It was a valuable opportunity I had to work alongside Sonya. Unfortunately she passed away a few years ago, but she has definitely left an impact on the trajectory of my career. I only hope I can have even a fraction of the impact on the students I’m working with at UBC as she had on me.


Is there anything else you would like to say about your journey at UBC?

CS: People wonder how I could be at UBC for so long in the same role… [12 Years]. At first, I was really intimidated by professors in my undergrad. But then being able to work closer with faculty and staff through our advisory committee, and collaborating with the director, it has been an amazing experience and I just feel really fortunate to do what I do with such a fun, friendly, intelligent and talented group of individuals.

Christina Sequeira has worked at BodyWorks for over ten years and continues to be an influential role in healthcare and preventive medicine. With more than 350 members at the fitness centre and 85 student volunteers and employees, Sequeira’s level of impact is far reaching and significant. More information about BodyWorks and their fitness programs can be found on the School of Kinesiology website.