Physical activity as a positive intervention to support student mental health

In the 2019 Australian Principal Occupational Health, Safety and Wellbeing Survey, principals reported the mental health issues of students as their third-highest source of stress. Now consider the probable post COVID19 impacts on young people’s mental health presented by Unicef Mental Health & Psychosocial Support Specialist, Dr Zeinab Hijazi, who said “The stakes could not be higher. If not adequately or appropriately addressed, the mental health consequences for a generation of children and young people could far surpass the immediate health and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving long-term social and economic consequences in its wake.” We are likely to continue to feel the effects of the pandemic for the imminent future, and its effect on our children’s mental health is no different. Much of the responsibility in addressing and supporting this falls to the school community.

My interest area is the importance of physical activity as one of the foundational ways to support and improve mental health. My Mum was a Physical Education teacher, and whenever I complained of being (tired, bored, hungry, sad…), the first thing she suggested was that we go for a walk or I go and jump on the trampoline. And it usually worked. I was able to pass that same foundation on to my own four kids and now, as young adults using regular physical activity to support their mental and physical health is a tool they have for life.

This passion for the importance of regular physical activity led me to start Champion Life. I wanted to find a way to support schools to deliver short bursts of guided physical activity to their students on a regular basis and to deliver it through “real-life” role models who value staying active and looking after their own health and wellbeing and wanted to inspire young people to do the same. Our role models act as “virtual mentors” and represent a diverse range of nationalities and professions that reflect the diversity of our student audience and increase the chance of positive connections. It’s well researched and evidenced that physical activity makes you feel good, and I wanted a way to demonstrate that fact to the students participating in Champion Life. My development team suggested a before and after emoji check-in based on a 5 point Likert scale. Over 80% of students have a higher check-in score after being physically active than before. This serves to illuminate the link between being active and feeling good. Our students average 3 mini activity sessions of Champion Life each week, meaning that they check-in to our Wellbeing Monitor on average 6 times each week. Teachers can see at a glance through their dashboard each student’s self-reported wellbeing scores each week.

This positive impact of using physical activity as a positive intervention to boost student mental and physical health and a monitoring system that tracks students wellbeing throughout the year to deliver actionable insights for teachers and school leaders is the foundation of Champion Life. There is no getting around the fact that in order for positive change to happen, good habits need to be formed over time. To encourage regular participation, Champion Life is flexible and super easy to implement. It takes very little teacher time each week, making sure to respect existing workloads and is designed to complement and enhance a school’s current physical education and wellbeing initiatives. We are delighted to welcome more schools each term and look forward to continuing to support the dedicated work of educators to help young people thrive in school and beyond.