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Youth mental health and physical activity

How do changes in a young person's physical state and level of activity influence and serve as an indicator of overall wellbeing?
Group of boys jumping to catch basketball

A big part of an individual’s wellbeing is their physical state, as it has a two-way relationship with mental wellbeing.

Therefore, changes in the individual’s physical state and level of activity can influence and serve as an indicator of overall wellbeing.

The impact of the COVID-19 lockdown

Considering the recent nationwide lockdown and the restrictions of social distancing, we can expect to see a decline in the physical activity of young people.

Accordingly, there is likely to be an increase in the amount of time a young person spends lying down or in a seated position.

The easing of restrictions

The easing of government restrictions has seen a resurgence of activity in the parks and playgrounds of the nation, however, some young people may be more reluctant than others, to get out of the house.

For young people on either side of the fence, it is important that they remain active – associated health benefits of physical activity include strengthened joints, muscles and bones, cardiovascular health, self-confidence/self-esteem, and even social skills.

What does research show?

Joint research by University College London and Kings College London has shown that persistent sedentary behaviour (time spent sitting or lying down) between the ages of 12 and 16 are linked to depression at age 18, while even light physical activity, (such as a slow walk) for an hour each day was found to be linked with a decline in the development of depression at age 18.

This indicates that there is a strong relationship between mental wellbeing and physical activity in adolescence.

How to help

With all these positive benefits available, it is an important area to cover when communicating with a young person who is currently or has recently experienced a period of difficulty or upheaval in their life.

Making a point to acknowledge and encourage the young person for any of their efforts is important. However, identifying whether the young person has managed to get active is the core focus here, and how they do so is a secondary concern.

Conversation kickoff

  • Have you managed to stay active? If so what activities have you been doing?
  • If you had the choice between being at home all day and going out with your friends/ family for a walk, which would you choose and why?
  • Have you thought about calling some friends to have a kick about at the park?
  • Some people find it easier to go for walks or runs with company. Can you ask someone close to you to join you?
  • Have you left your house to go for a walk?

PEP POINTS TASK suggestions

If the conversation reveals that the young person could do with being more active try working with them to consider different types of exercise or ways to motivate themselves including:
  • Using trackable fitness apps
  • Exercising online by with friends (through video calls)
  • Being active through dancing

If you’d like to learn more about youth mental health, check out the full online course, from The Mental Health Foundation, below.

This article is from the free online

Youth Mental Health: Supporting Young People Using a Trauma Informed Practice

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