Under the Hood

Physical Fitness Found To Boost Teen’s Mental Health

As per the World Health Organization (WHO), inactivity or sedentary lifestyle is the fourth leading cause of mortality worldwide. This is clearly reflected in Ireland. Around 9 percent of the burden of disease accumulated as a result of coronary artery disease and 10.9 percent of type 2 diabetes are caused by the lack of exercise. 

Last November, resources on physical education to be incorporated in the secondary school curriculums were launched for teachers. CÚRAM, a national research center tying technology with medicine, created the cross-curricular to arouse the interest of teenage girls in attaining scientific knowledge along with doing healthy physical activities. 

The center is funded by the Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), which is based in the National University of Ireland, Galway. The project titled Strength in Science was financially backed by SFI’s Discover Program and comprised of a team of physical education (PE) teachers, fitness guides and science teachers, among others.  

As part of daily school activities, the Department of Education and Skills recommends secondary school students to exercise for at least 60 minutes every week. A study conducted by the Children’s Sport Participation and Physical Activity 2018 revealed that 19 percent of post-primary girl students follow the guidelines. 

Time constraints and overload of school work often do not allow students to get the necessary physical activity. Explaining the science behind the importance of physical fitness is a route to disseminate both science and exercise simultaneously. In doing so, they hope to convince educators that it is not a complete waste of time. In fact, it could stimulate an interest in science and leading a healthy lifestyle. 

“We’re hoping it will increase teen participation in exercise, as well as their understanding of how exercise affects their bodies — that exercise isn’t just about helping them lose weight but that it has an effect on their bones, their blood,’’ Sarah Gundy, project leader, said. 

Till date, eight schools in Ireland are on board with the project covering six hundred students. Five schools are located in Galway itself, while the other three are in Dublin. 

“Trying a new exercise technique, like using a racket with your less dominant hand, builds new neurons in the brain. Aerobic exercise releases nitric oxide, which will make the insides of the arteries slippery so plaque won’t stick,” Gundy explained. 

Complete kits replete with exercises, videos and instructions that touch upon science curriculums taught in school are made available to students and teachers alike online itself. It covers four modules, namely the positive impact of exercise on vascular disease, stroke, osteoporosis and brain health. 

Mental health is affecting more and more teenagers who lack human connection due to the excessive usage of technology, as well as due to the breakdown of the familial structure. 

“A brain with a more complex and varied neural network is stronger and may age more slowly later in life. If you don’t like dancing, you can challenge your brain with unfamiliar exercise techniques instead. This will stimulate your brain to form new neural pathways also. For example, try kicking a ball with your less dominant foot, or swinging a racket or hurl with your less dominant hand!”a brochure part of the program reads. 

Physical Activity Increasing the amount of physical activity each week can lower the risk of chronic disease around the world. Photo courtesy of Pixabay, public domain

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