When we reflect on the significant things we can do to keep our mind and body feeling good and functioning well, one of those most valuable things is ‘being active’ and unfortunately, it is often the most common thing we let slide as we get older. By adolescence, we often will see an increase in competing opportunities and striking that healthy balance can sometimes be a much greater challenge.
Therefore it is critical that we lay the foundations from an early age and potentially this foundation will already be forming, well before students may even start their learning journey with us as three year olds in the ELC. Families play an important part in establishing routines for regular activity and leading by example, through the modelling of exercise as a highly valued part of daily family life.
We then know that as educators, we can continue to reinforce, promote and help engage children in developing healthy habits and attitudes to pursuing physical activity, through the rich learning in Physical Education, Health, Wellbeing and Play and through the regular interactions with a range of positive role models within the school community, who continually endorse the message of ‘active each day’.
The National Physical Activity Guidelines recommend:
Pre-schoolers (3 to 5 years) should spend at least 180 minutes a day in a variety of physical activities, of which 60 minutes is energetic play such as running, jumping, kicking and throwing, spread throughout the day – noting more is better.
Children and young people (5-17 years) should aim for at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day, involving mainly aerobic activities that makes their heart beat faster – more is better. The 60 minutes can be made up of shorter bursts of activity throughout the day that add up to 60 minutes or longer.
Activities that are vigorous, as well as those that strengthen muscle and bone, should be incorporated (in the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity) at least three days per week. In addition, several hours of a variety of light physical activities should be undertaken each day.
Equally of important consideration, is the time spent sedentary (other than sleep), in a 24 hour time slot. We need to regularly break up longer periods of inactivity and ensure movement happens frequently.
In addition to these government recommendations, the link between exercise and mental health has never been stronger. Happiness researcher, Sonja Lyubromirsky (2007) notes that ‘exercise may well be the most effective instant happiness booster of all activities’. Innately, it is something we all know, however, we can often struggle to strike that balance. Physical activity has recently been identified as the most important factor in reaching optimal functioning (Mann & Narula, 2017). So, how does daily exercise enhance our overall health and wellbeing and our ability to learn effectively?
Research tells us that exercise leads to a healthier body, but also a healthier brain. When we exercise, our body produces an important protein that basically acts as a fertiliser for our brains. It provides an increase in our ability to be more creative in our thinking.
Some of the many benefits of exercise, for both Mind and Body, include:
- Increased memory, mood, attention and sleep patterns
- A reduction in the risk of depression and has a range of benefits for mental health
- Greater opportunities for meeting new people and socialising
- Strengthens your heart and improves lung function
- Increased bone mineral density – important for bone strength
- Increased neurogenesis (the creation of new neurons – a nerve cell and new neural pathways)
- Increased myelination (the sheath surrounding the neural pathways, increasing the signal strength of nerves)
- Increased hormone levels, including dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin (feel good chemicals and one of the reasons why we feel so good when we walk back in the door post exercise session)
Likewise, we can also have environmental benefits from Physical activity, as active transport, for example, reduces our carbon footprint.
As a school, we recognise the importance of promoting physical activity as a lifelong pursuit and Mind and Body Wellness is one of our key pillars of our Whole School Wellbeing Framework. Regular exercise is importantly promoted every day through play and also in Move to Learn programs, PE within the Junior School curriculum, through our extensive co-curricular Junior School sport offerings and through our Nature Play focus and connection with Belair National Park.
For the adults in our school community, Sport Australia has its “Find Your 30” campaign, which promotes practical ways in which anyone can work half an hour of activity into their day. There are simple solutions, like walking the extra block to work, taking the stairs instead of the elevator and getting the whole family active together. You can find more information here: https://www.sportaus.gov.au/findyour30
With the change of seasons, the earlier sunrises and the warmer weather, now is an optimal time to make physical activity a priority and habit, to ensure every one of us can truly flourish.
Leader of Student Wellbeing