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Exercise can help us to thrive

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We are all better for some exercise – not only physically, but mentally and emotionally, too.

Almost everyone, if not indeed everyone, accepts this, so why is it that so many people – of all ages – will find excuses to avoid it?

I believe that the answer lies in how people perceive physical exercise and, in particular, the nature of exercise to which they have been exposed.

This is where primary and secondary schools have both the privilege and responsibility to introduce young people to a range of opportunities that promote healthy living, and that must include physical exercise.

So many adults will recall unpleasant, uncomfortable memories from their youth: playing a sport for which they were not physically well-designed; being selected by peers who chose the strong over the weak, humiliating those left to the end; being mocked by peers and even adults for perceived poor performance; or forced to play in dreadful weather conditions.

Coupled with poor education regarding healthy eating, no wonder so many people have a negative view of keeping active.

Yet we really need to address this, whether you are a parent, a teacher or simply a caring adult, for the sake of the nation’s children.

At a time of great anxiety owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, exacerbating reasons why not to exercise in a depressed, lockdown situation; together with the global trend towards obesity, teaching children of the benefits of keeping fit is more important now than ever before.

This year, with the lockdowns the country has experienced at various times as a result of the pandemic, we have all become familiar with the idea of daily exercise breaks as a tonic for both mind and body.

While the dark and gloomy evening can prove a deterrent during the long winter months, for many, a walk or run has become the highlight of what otherwise might be a gloomy day.

It has become familiar to see joggers in the street and even elders in local parks, participating in sensibly socially distanced keep fit classes.

I have high hopes that these newly formed fitness habits – for some a totally new development that has come later in life – will continue beyond these dark times and will result in a healthier, happier nation in times to come.

And if this proves to be the case, our children and young people will undoubtedly benefit.

Not only do we benefit from exercise in terms of physical health, addressing potential weight issues, but mental health and wellbeing are immeasurably enhanced at the same time.

Performance in academic work is unquestionably improved when a child exercises regularly. And it must be habitual, not just a once-a-week phenomenon of 30 minutes.

Countless neurological studies support this: a child who experiences half an hour of physical exercise a day will perform better in coursework, assessments, tests and examinations.

Of course, that exercise must be appealing if it is to engage the child in such a way that it does indeed become habitual.

We all know the obvious team sports: rugby, hockey, netball, basketball, football and cricket, to name but a few.

Not only do they promote physical wellbeing, but they develop skills in leadership, teamwork, integrity and humour.

Tennis, swimming, badminton, table tennis, dance, pilates, spinning, yoga, gym-based work, athletics and cross-country are all terrific sports of a more individual pursuit, and equally rewarding and supportive when it comes to academic attainment.

A healthy body is a healthy mind – it’s about finding the right form of physical exercise for each and every individual.