I wrote this as part of an assignment in my recently completed Foundations of Exercise and Wellness class.
Heath education is so much more than providing data and teaching people a set of rules. I believe that attaining and maintaining optimal health and wellness requires a lifetime of work, learning, and discovery. It is a state that arises not from what we may pursue on a particular day, not from a particular product, a particular program, or a specific focus; but from the cumulative effect of how we go about our lives over many months, years, and decades. I firmly believe that people need to be shown a way to fully integrate healthy behavior patterns into their lives, so that they become habitual and indistinguishable from their normal ways of being. I feel that the best way to do this is to pursue creative ways of showing people how to appreciate the daily experience of physical activity in the form of play, to recognize as cardiologist and distance runner Dr. George Sheehan once said, “we are all athletes; the difference is that some of us are in training and some of us are not,” and to understand the essential roles of good nutrition and other healthy lifestyle practices in supporting that activity in both the near-term, and as one progresses through consecutive stages of life. Health then becomes a positive symptom of what one is pursuing, rather than a goal itself. These changes in mindset, if they are to be successfully attained and sustained, require gradual adjustment and will not happen overnight. I believe that patience and understanding are crucial qualities of the health educator. While I clearly understand the importance of individual responsibility, I also recognize that individuals are influenced, shaped, and constrained by the society around them. Therefore as a society we have a responsibility to do collectively what individuals themselves cannot do—regulate our food suppliers, design our communities, protect public health, educate, and deliver health care, in ways that make healthy behaviors viable, practical, and attractive for individuals and families regardless of income or where they live.