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UC’s new physical activity program aims to improve health and wellbeing for Canberra’s multicultural women

Reshma Jayesh and Emma Larouche

30 April 2024: The University of Canberra has launched Active Beginnings, a unique six-week physical activity program for women from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds who are living in the ACT.

The program is being delivered by the University of Canberra’s Faculty of Health, in partnership with the Multicultural Hub (mHub) Canberra, and the Healthcare Consumers Association (HCCA), and funded through the ACT Government’s Healthy Canberra Grants.

The University engaged multicultural community leaders in the ACT to develop the six-week program, which is open to women of all ages across the Canberra region.

“What makes Active Beginnings unique is the involvement of women and leaders from Canberra’s diverse local multicultural communities who have co-designed the Program to make it fit-for-purpose,” said Professor Deborah Davis, Clinical Chair in Midwifery at the University of Canberra and the ACT Health Directorate.

“The program intends to bring fun back into physical activity, while forming important social connections that are key to wellbeing.”

Women who sign up for the free program will have access to a wide range of information and exercise resources to improve health and wellbeing outcomes, form new social connections and connect to social supports.

“We hope it will help women leverage their social connections to maintain an active and healthy lifestyle, beyond the duration of the program,” Professor Davis said.

While the primary aim is to promote an active lifestyle in women from Canberra’s multicultural communities, the team hopes the program will encourage more mature aged women to become role models, while also raising awareness about the benefits of physical activity in pregnancy and childbearing years.

“When women are physically and mentally healthy, they often have more positive outcomes during their pregnancy and parenting journey. We know physical activity has positive impacts on the body and mind, yet women from culturally and linguistically diverse communities often face social and access barriers to fitness, sport and exercise in the ACT,” said ACT Minister for Population Health Emma Davidson, who supported Active Beginnings at its launch event on 20 April and attended the opening activity session.

The program kicked off on 29 April at the Denman Village Community Centre, led by Linda Berjaoui, a qualified personal trainer and owner of SistaPT, who provided “core and floor” sessions.

“All activity providers are local Canberra women who are passionate supporters of helping women achieve physical fitness, and promoting health and well-being. It also includes some existing community activities like the local ParkRun,” Professor Davis said.

Ms Berjaoui has tailored her exercise sessions to suit women from diverse multicultural backgrounds.

“I’m so happy to be part of this program, as it’s something that I’m really passionate about – making sure multicultural women in Canberra have a safe, comfortable place where they can come and exercise,” Ms Berjaoui said.

“This is a program where you’ll be welcomed and have many activity options to choose from. You can find what makes you feel comfortable and what makes you feel great and we hope that this turns into a habit you continue even after the program is completed.”

Those interested in participating can register for activities here, with additional resources on the benefits of physical activity here. Active Beginnings runs until 9 June 2024.