For National Public Health Week 2023, which takes place April 3–9, the American Public Health Association (APHA) has a theme of “Centering and Celebrating Cultures in Health.” The messaging surrounding this year’s theme should resonate will all ACE Certified Professionals, as it focuses on making communities healthier, safer and stronger through mutual support and engagement. There is also a call to action asking people “to step in and do what they can to make our world a more equitable, safe, healthy and just space.”
Let’s take a closer look at this year’s event and explore where ACE Certified Professionals can “step in,” celebrate culture and make a difference in their communities.
This year, the APHA offers seven daily themes, some of which more directly connect with the work of ACE Pros than others: (1) Community, (2) Violence Prevention, (3) Reproductive and Sexual Health, (4) Mental Health, (5) Rural Health, (6), Accessibility and (7) Food and Nutrition.
There have been countless wellness-related lessons and reminders over the past few years since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and many of them have centered on the importance of community and the accessibility of places to be active and purchase healthy foods. People have begun thinking more deeply about the social determinants of health and how things like safe parks, local markets and accessibility to public transportation shape both the quality and duration of our lives.
You can make a direct impact on the public health in your community—or nearby communities where you see a need for the types of services you provide as an ACE Pro—by meeting people where they are rather than expecting them to come to you. For example, you might take advantage of shared outdoor spaces by offering workouts or educational sessions in places of worship, the ballfields at local schools, community centers or local parks. You can also lead grocery store tours or cooking demonstrations designed to help people make healthy choices when cooking for their families, while also respecting their cultural traditions and customizing your offerings to suit their individual needs.
ACE’s Moving Together Outside campaign offers tools and strategies to improve health equity in under-resourced communities through advocacy and the creation of safe opportunities for residents to engage in healthy, active lifestyle behaviors. Other advocacy strategies include educating yourself on issues in your community, joining or starting a coalition of like-minded individuals or organizations, and leading by example—something most ACE Pros are pretty passionate about.
You can also positively impact a community’s collective mental health by helping people connect and develop mutual social support, which is an important predictor of ongoing adherence to an exercise or behavior-change program. Few things are as powerful and empowering as the development of a community of like-minded individuals sharing similar goals. And, this is made even more powerful when you are helping to build bridges within and between communities, especially when you are reaching people who are particularly prone to mental health conditions—including minorities, indigenous peoples and transgender people, all of whom see very high rates of mental health conditions—and who you might not otherwise reach.
Finally, take advantage of ACE continuing education offerings in the area of equity, diversity and inclusion to further explore how you can improve the health of individuals and communities while respecting our differences, whether that is through creating adaptive fitness opportunities for clients with special needs, addressing weight bias in your fitness facility or simply becoming more empathetic and better able to recognize where your own weakness or blind spots may lie.
As an ACE Certified Professional, you have an opportunity to help people—all people—live more active and healthier lifestyles. It’s vital that, as you do so, you are mindful of the way cultural traditions and community differences might impact the pursuit of better health. Educate yourself on the challenges facing local communities and then take action and find ways to help people overcome those challenges. Few things are as rewarding as helping people discover not only the health and fitness benefits, but also the joy, that can be attained through physical activity.