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Physical activity and children’s mental health

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Emily Brooks, Healthy Weight Cymru ambassador discusses her experience of the many benefits that sport and physical activity offer young people, and shares her ideas for simple ways young people can get more active. Having recently graduated with a Sport and Physical Education degree, Emily is passionate about helping people get active and healthy. 

They call it the ‘great outdoors’, don’t they? That can sometimes seem a bit of a stretch, as we gaze out of the window during mid-Winter, and see the rain hammering against it.

But having been there and done it, as a sports person and as a Young Ambassador, I can genuinely vouch for the outdoors. A walk, a jog, a wheel, a whatever – it can be great for us young people.

Whether you’re headed outdoors, or staying inside, there are loads of studies that suggest exercise, and staying active, is great for our body and our mind. And if science say it’s true, there must be something in it, right? 

Plus, I’ve been lucky enough to witness first-hand the physical, cognitive and social benefits of sport and physical activity. 

Young People Sitting in Group

 

An example: throughout university I found it really beneficial to take regular breaks, particularly during stressful periods, even if it was a simple walk or a short gym session. Try it yourself, and seriously, you’ll feel the difference. For me, I noticed I was feeling positive and happy, and as a Young Ambassador, I’ve spoken to countless young people who feel the same. 

Exercise is also a great way to learn new skills; you don’t have to be Gareth Bale to boot a ball about, or Tanni Grey Thompson to take a spin in your wheelchair. Doing something, anything, can give you a proper boost.

There are also more ways than ever to connect with others through sport. Tick off your walk on Strava? Dance routines on TikTok? And that’s not to mention joining your local team; netball, football, hockey, rugby… you get the picture.

Finding what works best 

There is no magic solution to get young people active; what works for one young person may not work for another. However, a key message I have always tried to include is the ‘fun factor’. If you enjoy something – even if you’re not going to be a professional – it’s likely to make you feel great. And as young people, shouldn’t we be doing what makes us feel good, and helps us keep healthy? 

At a glance, kicking or chucking a ball may look like a basic skill. But there are so many upsides for young people in pursuing sport or an active lifestyle; and this ranges from when you’re toddling around as a youngster right up to when you’re hanging out with your friends after school. 

With so many young people currently stuck at home in Wales, and the rest of the UK, we’re likely spending more time than usual indoors, and less time developing their social skills. But with time to spare, we have a great opportunity to get outdoors – yes, the great outdoors – with the family and take in the beautiful surroundings we have in Wales. 

Some ideas to try new ways of getting active each day

  • Walking is often overlooked but provides a low impact activity that is accessible for many. Including a walk in your daily routine can be beneficial not only physically, but psychologically as it helps to break up the day and provides a break from indoor learning.
  • Set challenges with your friends and family, such as trying a new sport, improving your flexibility or aiming for a new daily steps goal.Discuss your ideas with each other! My mum and I have challenged each other to 12,000 steps every day – it really helps us to get up and get moving, even on the days we don’t want to. 
  • Technology is a big part of everyone’s lives at the moment, aside from remote learning it allows us to keep in touch with those classmates, family and friends we are missing at the moment. I like to grab my headphones and give my grandparents a ring while I’m walking – the time flies by. 
  • Make a positive change – rather than listening to the same music playlists, ask a friend or family member for a new recommendation that you can listen to while you walk, cycle or run (you might find a new favourite)!
  • Podcasts have become a regular part of my daily routine. Throughout university I found taking in large amounts of information challenging, then I discovered BBC podcasts – allowing me to learn whilst out and about and getting that all important break from sitting at a screen!
  • Sometimes walking or jogging can be a bit tedious or boring when you’re by yourself – the rules in Wales have relaxed to enable exercise with someone from another household. Meet up with a friend or neighbour and explore one of your local public footpaths. The opportunity to get some fresh air and see a friendly face can really boost your mood if you’re feeling a bit isolated – it certainly puts a smile on my face. 
  • You don’t like walking or running? Have you tried dance or Zumba? Ask your friends and peers what has been keeping them active – give something new a try. Virtual yoga is one of my favourites to follow along with friends. 

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