For Elaine Gonzales Johnson, the joy of giving birth to her daughter was clouded by disappointment that she had gained 52 pounds during pregnancy. “When I couldn’t lose the weight, I got so depressed. I did not want to be seen. And I just wanted to sleep and wake up with a new body,” she recalls. Like many women whom I see in my general medicine practice, Elaine struggled with her weight and with depression. But she also had lots of assets, including her family.  It was her love of her family that inspired her to focus on her own health and eventually the health of her community.

The short film, Vida in Motion, tells Elaine’s inspiring story of personal growth and community leadership through her commitment to improving her health and well-being. The film is part of TakeCare, a national initiative that uses short inspirational films to offer tools to help people take control of their health. I was fortunate to serve as a health advisor on the film, and witness how Elaine inspired other women in her community to care for themselves.

Dark Days
Elaine says in the film that she grew up a “chubby girl” in a family and community where healthy eating and physical activity were not a priority, especially for women. This is not unusual. National data show that Latina girls are less encouraged to exercise than girls in other population groups. Once she started walking in her North Philadelphia neighborhood, her mood and energy level improved.  Soon walking became jogging, and jogging became running. She savored “one hour a day when I could just be alone with my thoughts” and she realized she was doing much more than just improving her body. She was, as she says, “choosing me.”

Mind, Body, Spirit, and Community
Elaine started training more seriously and she eventually entered a big public race. She was starting to feel more confident and more energetic. She recruited friends and family to run with her and came to realize how much she wanted other people to share her new sense of health and well-being—especially other Latinas who hadn’t grown up exercising or with mothers who took time for themselves. That’s when she started Latinas in Motion, a community-based organization designed to encourage, inspire, and empower women of color to become physically active.

Beyond Fitness
For Elaine, her personal journey and her work with other women has been about much more than physical fitness. “It’s about wellness. It’s about confidence. It’s about self-love,” she says. Many different activities can support people in this way—whether they’re physically active or not. I recommend walking to all my patients. It’s free and widely accessible. It’s also been shown to boost mental health and reduce the risk of dementia. People can join neighborhood or worksite walking clubs, or even “walking school buses” of families who walk their children to school together. Local community centers and YMCAs are also great resources for indoor walking and other physical fitness activities.

You can engage in movement to boost your health, either alone or with friends to build connection and community. Research shows that having an exercise partner or a group helps people stick with their commitments. There’s also a lot of research about the health benefits of social connection. Your walking buddies can help you stick with your exercise plan and also offer social and emotional support. People with supportive friends and family tend to have lower rates of chronic diseases and also find it easier to navigate health challenges.

Find Your Path  
As I see in my practice, people take care of themselves in a wide variety of ways. Some focus on physical activity. Some spend time cooking healthy meals. Some spend time in community with family and friends or with neighborhood or religious groups. Elaine’s journey is unusual in that she not only did this for herself, she also created a group to benefit people she didn’t know.  

Improving Health Day by Day
Elaine’s story also serves as an inspiration to anyone going through a challenging time. She says in the film, “I’m so grateful for all of it—for the pain, for the fear, for the depression—because here I am taking it day by day and choosing me every single day and teaching other women how to choose themselves every single day. That is the true definition of what joy looks like.”

Alicia Fernandez, MD, served as advisor on the film, “Vida in Motion,” as part of The Healthy US Collaborative’s TakeCare initiative. Dr. Fernandez is Professor of Medicine at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and a general internist at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. She is the founding Director of the UCSF Latinx Center of Excellence and the Associate Dean of Population Health and Health Equity at UCSF.  Dr. Fernandez’s research expertise includes language and literacy barriers in health care, health care equity in chronic disease, and racism in medicine.


  • Funded by the nonprofit The Healthy US Collaborative Inc., TakeCare is a national initiative that invites people to take care of their Whole Health: Mind, Body, Spirit, and Community. Through education, community support, and highlighting the simple ways in which people have transformed their lives, TakeCare inspires a Whole Health movement for all.