Empowering Wellbeing: Physical Activity as a Foundation for Wellbeing in Young People

It’s no secret that Australian school students are facing a mental health crisis – research is increasingly revealing worryingly high levels of poor mental wellbeing among our youth. In fact, a report by Mission Australia and the Black Dog institute revealed that in 2018, 24.2% of students experienced mental distress – an increase of 5.5% in seven years (Mission Australia, 2019). Unfortunately, the onset of a global pandemic is predicted to further destabilise student wellbeing. A leading expert in Australian youth mental health Patrick McGorry said that the COVID-19 crisis is a “shadow pandemic” with “a risk of scarring a whole generation” (Sydney Morning Herald, 2020). 

While the full future effect of the pandemic on youth mental health may be impossible to predict, one thing is glaringly obvious – we need to address the mental health crisis amongst Australian students before it is too late. It’s incredibly important that in doing so, we take a holistic approach which equips our youth with lifelong skills to manage their mental wellbeing. 

When measuring health, it’s important to take an approach with considers multiple facets of wellbeing. The World Health Organisation suggests that such a measurement should be based on quality of life – an index which is the summation of the physical, mental and social wellbeing of a person (World Health Organisation, 2006). A 2018 study of adolescents in the United Kingdom found that “improving cardiorespiratory fitness and BMI by increasing vigorous physical activity may be beneficial to both mental well-being and quality of life in adolescents… to elicit improvements to quality of life, exercise or physical activity interventions should remain multi-faceted, simultaneously focusing on cardiorespiratory fitness, BMI and symptoms of depression” (Eddolls et. al, 2018). 

It’s this philosophy of multi-faceted action which drives Champion Life. Our platform is unique in its ability to simultaneously encourage physical activity, deliver education on mental and physical wellbeing through our diverse role models, and measure the effects of activity on student health in real-time through our wellbeing monitor. Before undertaking one of our Champion Life activity guided activity breaks, students are asked to nominate how they are feeling on a simple 1-5 scale. Moods range from “really sad” to “very happy” and are represented by emojis to help make the check-in process as intuitive as possible. Upon completing their activity, students are once again asked to check in with the Wellbeing Monitor. 

Through collating the data from these check-ins, Champion Life has been able to determine that 82% of students feel better after completing their activity. While this statistic is truly remarkable, it is not surprising to us – as I outlined earlier, the links between physical activity and wellbeing are well researched and documented. 

However, our Wellbeing Monitor does not exist to prove the value of physical activity to student wellbeing – we already know! One of the best things about the wellbeing monitor is that it gives students the chance to observe the change in their mood themselves. This is an invaluable lesson for children and adolescents to learn. You can explain the benefits of physical activity to kids over and over, but there’s no guarantee the lesson will sink in. To really learn a lesson, you need to experience it yourself. Our platform is a tool which helps guide students to see the benefits of regular physical activity, and help them adopt enduring practices which will measurably improve their lifelong wellbeing.
Aside from helping kids see the links between activity and overall wellbeing and providing us with quantifiable evidence that physical activity improves the mood of students, the tool is a valuable resource for teachers. Through our teacher dashboard, educators are able to see the check-in results of their students and take action where necessary. We have increasingly heard feedback from educators that they’re struggling to keep up with the demands required of their position – which often include being responsible for student wellbeing on top of teaching and co-curricular responsibilities. Through our Wellbeing Monitor, teachers are given an additional tool to assist with wellbeing management, and a chance to identify students who most need help. The self-reporting nature of the wellbeing monitor also encourages students to accurately report their actual mood – something which many students can find intimidating in a person-to-person conversation. 

In a year where student mental health is at its most concerning levels yet, and our entire way of life has been uprooted, supporting our kids is more important than ever. With everything we know about the lifelong benefits to quality of life that an active lifestyle promotes, it is incredibly important that we find intuitive and engaging ways to help our kids learn these lessons. It’s a cornerstone of our philosophy that kids need to be empowered to form healthy activity habits themselves – we’re incredibly proud that Champion Life provides a platform for kids to learn these valuable lessons. 

Reference list: 

William T. B. Eddolls, Melitta A. McNarry, Leanne Lester, Charles O. N. Winn, Gareth Stratton & Kelly A. Mackintosh (2018), ‘The association between physical activity, fitness and body mass index on mental well-being and quality of life in adolescents’, Quality of Life Research, volume 27, https://doi.org/10.1007/s11136-018-1915-3 
Mission Australia (2019), ‘Can we talk? Seven-year youth mental health report - 2012-2018’, Mission Australia, https://www.missionaustralia.com.au/publications/youth-survey/1318-can-w...
Rachel Clun (2020), ‘Mental health system needs NDIS-style reform to cope with this crisis, experts say’, Sydney Morning Herald, https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/mental-health-system-needs-ndis-...
World Health Organisation (2006), ‘WHOQOL: Measuring Quality of Life’, World Health Organisation, https://www.who.int/healthinfo/survey/whoqol-qualityoflife/en/