Covid fallout for young people - let’s move!

Torbay teacher Valerie Bailey, an expert on mental health issues especially among the youth

Torbay teacher Valerie Bailey, an expert on mental health issues especially among the youth - Credit: Archant

I recently attended the Celebrate Chelston parade and while waiting to see the stilt walkers, Effic the Jester and other fantastic samba bands, I stood in Victoria Park and watched a group of early teenage boys playing football.

Before I continue, I must say that I was so pleased with the amount of people attending the event patronaged by the Shiphay and Higher Chelston Community Partnership.

It was amazing to see so many young people from toddler to teenage, running around, developing a healthy set of muscles to support their skeleton while filling their lungs with fresh air.

Something did strike me, though: the clear obesity of some of the boys playing football.

Don’t take me wrong, they were still working hard at their skill, but I could not help feeling sorry for the effort they were having to yield, just too keep up with the game.

As I am writing this, I worry that you, the parent of a child with a challenging weight will think I am judging... I am not.

We did consider eating habits in a previous column but it occurs to me that fitness associates physical exercise and eating habits.

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Obesity is essentially an imbalance between energy coming in by way of food versus its ‘spending’ by way of exercise.

There are abundant aspects that contribute to this drift.

There isn’t a lot of evidence to support diets for young people as the main concern is not to restrict any one food group while they are growing and developing.

Focus is mainly aimed at appropriate volumes of food / calories and for them to stay at a stable weight while they grow into a healthier BMI (body mass index), rather than lose weight.

So before we can consider how a young person will benefit from ‘moving’ their body and improve their mental health, it is essential to contemplate their ability to do so!

With the reduction of physical exercise in lockdown, but then in our nowadays society in general too, and in the absence of dietary adjustment, everything just contributes to weight gain.

Regular and regimented sport is in decline, fewer hours of physical exercise at school for instance, and lengthy periods watching television or playing on games console also endow the increasingly sedentary lifestyle our young people experience.

A young person being physically active simply means that they will be sitting down for shorter periods of time and moving their bodies for longer.

Many a young person has recognised that physical activity had helped them maintain a positive mental health.

This really is not about running a marathon or going every day to the gym. There are so many different things young people can do to increase their activity.

Organisations such as Mind will give ideas and information on selecting an activity. There is a plethora of tips to help get started, and more to the point, information about how much activity is healthy.

This is vital – young people need to be empowered and motivated if we want them to buy into this.

Telling them to become active won’t cut it! Let’s be honest, does it work for us?

If you consider physical activity in your (theirs and anyone else’s) life as a ladder, it is not until you are stood on the second of third rung that you realise the changes that have occurred.

Endorphins flow in your brain and there is a reckoning that you have the power to do this, for and to yourself. No one else!

The World Psychiatry Journal reported, in 2016, that physical activity was already conveyed as a major health behaviour that was strongly recommended for the prevention and treatment of several brain-linked conditions, one being your mental health.

At the Nemours Foundation for kids’ health, they believe teenagers should do 60 minutes or more of physical activity every day. They too advocate moderate to vigorous aerobic activity, which can also be done sat on a chair. That means anything that gets your heart going — like biking, dancing, or running.

The evidence for physical activity concerning mental health effects is widespread, and mounting. The correlations between both are clear, so why ignore this warning? As educators, and as parents, we cannot stand back and complain that our teenagers are low in mood if we rest on a status quo.

It is down to us to educate them to educate themselves. Are the young people around you doing 60 minutes of ‘aerobics’ a day?