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  • Writer's pictureAdrian Bethune

The magic bullet for improving mental health is at our fingertips

What if we told you that there was already a remedy for poor mental health, a solution that was free, didn’t involve medication and has always been available to us? 


 

According to psychologist, Dr Raymond Fowler, this remedy already exists. As he puts it, “exercise is the closest thing we have to a magic bullet for mental and physical health”.  


We all know that exercise is ‘good for us’ but can physical activity really be described as the magic bullet?  


Well, studies have shown that amongst patients with severe depression, those prescribed exercise saw declines in their symptoms equal to those prescribed antidepressants. Not only this, the ‘exercisers’ were less likely than those on medication to relapse six months after treatment, and patients who maintained exercise after the study were 50% less likely to become depressed than those who didn't exercise.


Yet, despite the proven power of movement to address physical and mental health issues, physical activity levels in the UK remain alarmingly low, particularly amongst children. A recent report by Sport England shows that fewer than half of children, just 47%, are meeting the Chief Medical Officers’ guidelines of taking part in an average of 60 minutes or more of sport and physical activity a day.  

 

With the ever-increasing pressure on time and resources in the classroom, how do we address this inactivity crisis?  

 

Movement in the classroom doesn’t have to be reserved for PE and playtime. And it might be easier than you think to find the time to incorporate movement throughout the school day. Here are five easy, time-efficient ways to get your children (and you!) more active:   

 

The Daily Mile

With over 20,000 schools and nurseries taking part worldwide, chances are you might well be aware of the initiative. In a nutshell, The Daily Mile is a social physical activity, with children running, wheeling, or walking – at their own pace – in the fresh air with friends for 15 minutes every day.  

 

There’s lots to love about it – it’s inclusive, it’s free and it’s incredibly easy to introduce. There’s no special equipment needed, not even PE kits, and doesn’t take too much time out of the busy school day.   

 

We also love that there have been numerous studies on the impact of The Daily Mile on both physical and mental wellbeing. Studies by Universities of Stirling & Edinburgh showed that The Daily Mile:  

  • Contribute to improved alertness, mood and verbal memory (increase 7%)  

  • Can help children concentrate better in class and feel happier 

  • Promotes positive peer-to-peer and teacher-child relationships 

 

Find out more about The Daily Mile.   

 

Movement Breaks

We believe that for every 30 minutes of sedentary learning, children should take a break with 30 seconds of movement. A great physical activity we like to do with our children is ‘Hindu Squats’. Simply get the children to stand up off their chair with their arms out stretched, fists clenched. On your count they snap their arms into their body and shout 'BOOM!' then squat down. Take a look at our short video to see how it's done.


10 of these will get the blood flowing and reinvigorate them for the next 30 minutes of learning. Why not turn these breaks into a fun game by incorporating a piece of lively music that the children know signals to down tools and prepare for their movement break?  

 

Take Learning Outside

Being outside in nature is a fantastic way to encourage children to move their bodies. Away from the confines of the classroom and off their chairs, children will instinctively become more active and curious about the environment around them. They will also reap the added benefits of the extra Vitamin D and oxygen as well as the impact daylight has on regulating circadian rhythms.  

 

Tune into our vlog with forest bathing expert, Dr Qing Li on the power of nature to impact our physical and mental health.  

 

Physically Active Learning

Another great way to incorporate more movement into the day without taking up precious time, is through ‘physically active learning’ (PAL). It can be as simple as when your class are recounting a times table in maths, they’re jumping up and down as they call the numbers out. A UCL study found that incorporating basic physical exercise into lessons led to large and significant educational outcomes in those lessons (and had a positive knock-on effect on other lessons). Adding movement to typically sedentary activities will increase the blood flow around the body and wake up the brain for learning. And let’s face it, it’s just a bit more fun!  

 

More Playtime! 

Studies have shown that primary school break times have reduced by 45 minutes per week compared to levels in 1995. If children have more opportunity to be active in break times, they will inevitably be more awake and alert during lesson times. Introduce (or reintroduce) a 15 minute afternoon break to counteract that post-lunch slump! So, rather than seeing increased playtime as a nice to have, we need to reframe it as essential for effective learning, health and wellbeing. 

 

However you choose to boost activity levels for you and your class, making it achievable and sustainable is key. But making one small change to your daily routine could have a huge impact on physical and mental health and switch the children on for learning. And if you join in with them, you benefit too! It really is a win-win!  

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