The recent launch of the 2020 Irish Life Health Schools’ Fitness Challenge highlights the importance of physical activity for better cardiovascular and mental health among young people.
The proven link between childhood fitness and long-term physical and mental health is the key focus of this year’s Irish Life Health Schools’ Fitness Challenge. The goal is to educate and equip young people with the skills and knowledge to incorporate exercise into their daily routine to help improve and maintain both physical and mental health.
My World Survey 2 is Ireland’s largest study of mental health for those aged between 12 and 18 years. The study revealed that rates of severe/very severe anxiety among adolescents have doubled to 22 per cent in 2019, up from 11 per cent in 2012.
Commenting on the positive link between exercise and mental health, Professor Niall Moyna from the Centre for Preventive Medicine at DCU, who oversees the challenge, noted that substantial improvements in cardiovascular fitness can occur after as little as six weeks of regular exercise.
“A recent study carried out over five weeks where participants took part in low to moderate exercise saw a significant reduction in depression and anxiety," Dr Moyna said. "Aside from the obvious physical health benefits of physical activity, it is proven to also have a positive impact on mental wellbeing. In a review of nearly 90,000 adolescents, physical activity is associated with decreased concurrent depressive symptoms. It is vital that we place a greater emphasis on exercise in secondary schools especially as children progress through school when exam and other social pressures increase."
Irish Olympian and long-term Irish Life Health partner, Thomas Barr, also emphasised the merits of physical health and its positive impact on mental wellbeing.
“Exercising benefits your physical health as well as your mental wellbeing," he said. "I’ve always used my athletics as a break from studying — nothing cleared my head like getting out for a training session with my friends. It’s so important that teenagers start exercising now and have fun doing it, to ensure that healthy lifestyle habits are established early on, and the Irish Life Health Schools’ Fitness Challenge is a great place to start."
To find out more and to register for the Irish Life Health Schools’ Fitness Challenge, visit www.irishlifehealth.ie/fitnesschallenge