As we approach the final quarter for our Year 12 students, it is important to 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, with increasing stress levels and the busyness of school / work / life.
However, the link between exercise and mental health is strong. 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 promoted through PE within the curriculum, through our extensive co-curricular sport offerings, through EFM gym classes at lunch, running groups, House Sport and this week all our Senior School students embraced “let’s get physical” with their Wellbeing Wednesday sessions, all active options with Yoga for Year 12s, a High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) session for our Year 10s and Year 11s, combined with some team challenges and handball competitions.
The Australian Physical Activity Guidelines state that:
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.
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