"One lesson that stood out to me was when my partner and I were teaching the students about the relationship between physical activity and emotional health. Growing up, I never learned that physical activity has an effect on anything else but my physical health. However, in this lesson, we explored the effects that engaging in physical activity can have on our emotional well-being."
Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series of blog posts written by Human Health students in the Health 1,2,3,4 program’s Health 497 course – Community Health Education Strategies. To see an overview of the program and this series, please read this post.
When looking at my course schedule, it’s easy to see that health is almost always on my mind. The “HLTH” course designation is emblazoned across every corner of my calendar, and I spend most of my days around people and professors discussing the latest in health. Sometimes it takes a call home to remember not everyone is dwelling on the nutritional profile of fermented cabbage.
This past year, I served as a student health coach in the Healthy Emory Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), which was a path offered within HLTH 497 – Community Health Education Strategies. As I practiced for my group coaching sessions, I still found myself operating within my “health bubble.” My session topic was physical activity, and many of the peers I practiced with were either already involved in exercise or had been previously, but struggled to find time in their busy schedules. Heading into my first session, barriers like time, injury, and COVID-19 were at the forefront of my mind.
Those barriers did present themselves during my sessions, but I was caught off guard during my first session when one participant expressed that they were retired, so time was not the problem, and again when another participant expressed that although they knew physical activity was good for them, they just did not want to do it. Within the classroom “health bubble,” these barriers did not come up; however, that does not mean the participants in my session care any less about their health than my HLTH 497 peers.
Health can be a very loaded word. And in our culture, health can have a very narrow definition. There’s a prevailing thought that people who do not want to eat healthy or do not want to exercise must not really care about their health. Just because a participant expressed they do not like to be physically active, that is not an indication that they don’t value their health. Caring about your health does not have to look like a ten-mile run; it can look like showing up to a 30-minute group coaching session led by a slightly nervous sophomore in college. Particularly with a subject like physical activity, many participants expressed they didn’t know where to start or they didn’t see themselves as part of fitness culture.
So how can we make health more inclusive so that it doesn’t just exist within a bubble?
First, we need to ditch the notion that not being motivated means not caring. From talking with participants, family and peers, I have been hard pressed to find someone who does not value their health in some capacity. That’s why it is so important to take the time to understand the intricacies of people’s barriers. What resources do they need? Do they have a support system at home? How well do they understand what physical activity or health in general can look like? Maybe they need to be reminded of previous successes as a source of motivation. Ultimately, inclusivity does not come from expanding the “health bubble,” rather bursting it entirely. And as Emory students deep within the bubble, it is our job to help do that. Through working with programs like Healthy Emory’s DPP, we can help people understand that even if health might not always be on the forefront of their minds, they can still lead a healthy lifestyle. We have the opportunity to play a role in fostering a culture of health that can fit into anyone’s life no matter the barrier. And I learned through this process that a little delving into someone’s life can bring us closer to getting that bubble to burst.
To learn more about the Health 1,2,3,4 program, visit the program webpage. For more information about collaborative partnership opportunities, contact program director Lisa DuPree at firstname.lastname@example.org.