How physical fitness can boost teens' mental health

How physical fitness can boost teens' mental health
Students from Gort Community School take a zumba class with Mel Walsh. Picture: CÚRAM

Helen O’Callaghan finds mental fitness linked to physical fitness

With the goal of getting teenagers moving, new cross-curricular lesson resources have been developed for PE and Science teachers.

Launched by CÚRAM, the Science Foundation Ireland Research Centre for Medical Devices based at NUI Galway, the Strength in Science project has a double aim: to make science more personal and relevant to teens by linking how the biology and physics involved in exercise affects their health. And in a very subtle way: to present strong female role models working in different Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics careers.

The Children’s Sport Participation and Physical Activity 2018 study shows that just 19% of post-primary girls meet Department of Education recommended minimum guidelines of 120 minutes of PE a week. Time pressure due to school work is often cited as a reason for allocating too little PE during school hours. The Strength in Science developers hope that by strongly linking PE lessons to the science curriculum, educators will feel time dedicated to PE isn’t taking away from exam preparation.

Four-lesson plan kits linked to the Junior Cycle PE and Science curriculums are available. They integrate the work of world-leading, Irish researchers with the scientific effects of exercise on areas of the body to prevent vascular disease, osteoporosis, stroke and neuro- degenerative disorders.

Project leader Sarah Gundy says the programme gets at the real heart of the science behind exercise.

We’re hoping it will increase teen participation in exercise, as well as their understanding of how exercise affects their bodies — that exercise isn’t just about helping them lose weight but that it has an effect on their bones, their blood.

So far, eight schools have taken on the project — five in Galway, three in Dublin — involving over 600 students. Gundy gives an example of the detail students will learn about the effects of exercise on the body. “Trying a new exercise technique, like using a racket with your less dominant hand, builds new neurons in the brain. Aerobic exercise releases nitric oxide, which will make the insides of the arteries slippery so plaque won’t stick.”

Among the NUI Galway researchers featured on the videos are vascular surgeon Niamh Hynes and biomedical engineer Professor Laoise McNamara.

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