The theme of National Public Health Week 2022 is “Public Health Is Where You Are.” The work that health coaches and exercise professionals do every day reflects that theme, as meeting people where they are in their personal health and wellness journeys is a central tenet of effective behavior change. If you haven’t already done so, National Public Health Week is a great time to broaden the focus of “where you are” to encompass your local community.
The American Public Health Association offers three suggestions for those working in public health, including health coaches and exercise professionals, to start thinking about:
Having support and feeling included within our social communities can have a positive effect on our mental and physical health. This lets us give back to our communities’ health and make them stronger.
This is an area where health coaches and exercise professionals can make a tremendous impact. By finding creative ways to build a sense of community centered on physical activity and overall wellness, you can extend your reach beyond those individuals who seek out your services. Events like community health fairs are a great way to get your name out into the community and be seen as a trusted resource for health and wellness information and services, all while making a positive impact on public health. In addition, outdoor events that feature free group-based exercise are opportunities for you to demonstrate safe and effective ways to be more physically active in the community.
As people become more active and see their community–and you–as a source of social support, living a more active lifestyle becomes a bit easier. And, this may lead to improved mental and physical health of both individuals and the community at large.
While there are public health resources available where we live, some barriers may make it hard for us to get and use them. These could be physical, mental, financial, cultural and language barriers.
Helping clients and community members overcome barriers to accessing health resources is another area where health coaches and exercise professionals can make a difference. It’s likely that some people in your community may not be exercising because they don’t have the financial resources to join a gym or get to and from a fitness facility. Or, they may have physical or mental health conditions that limit their ability to perform an exercise. Finally, cultural and language barriers may be the issue.
In all of these cases, health coaches and exercise professionals can meet people “where they are” in the most literal sense. There is no reason for physical activity to be limited to the fitness facility. Be creative in reaching out to the community and offering opportunities to improve people’s health and wellness in churches, parks, school gyms and anywhere else you see people congregating in the community. By eliminating the need for people to come to you, you are helping them overcome potential barriers to participation.
Some communities have had a harder time than others. It is important to listen to the Black community and other communities of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and people with disabilities. This way we can make sure public health is fair for all.
This is all about ensuring equity in terms of which communities–and which people in those communities–have access to resources and services. As you work to expand your reach into new communities, be mindful of how your work can help address health disparities. Again, think creatively about where certain groups of people might gather. Is there a public park that is highly accessible to individuals in wheelchairs? Are there churches in the community that tend to attract certain races or ethnicities? Are there resources for the LGBTQ+ community that might be interested in adding physical activity to their list of offerings? When it comes to public health, fairness often means finding people where they are already gathering and serving them there.
It’s important to note that many health coaches and exercise professionals are already improving public health and thinking creatively about how to reach new communities in a fair and equitable way. This type of work supports ACE’s mission to “Get People Moving,” as well as the goals of initiatives like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Active People, Healthy Nation program and the World Health Organization’s Global Action Plan on Physical Activity.
ACE is proud to be in alignment with these like-minded organizations–including the American Public Health Association–as they work to increase physical activity levels and improve people’s overall health and wellness. This type of collaboration and mutual support is exactly what’s needed to achieve big-picture objectives like improving public health, but it begins by reaching one individual at a time and supporting them where they are.