Impact of Physical Activity on Students’ Wellbeing

Physical activity is a big part of everyone’s lives Ever since we started at junior school, we have been encouraged to participate in some type of physical activity whether it was going out for bike rides or playing for a sports club or simply being out with our friends. But why were we encouraged to do so? I will aim to explore the evidence behind the relationship between physical activity and our mental wellbeing. As we grow up, it becomes more identified that our wellbeing is important especially in the current climate. How does physical activity impact our wellbeing?

My Experiences

At a young age I was in love with the game of football. Every day after school I would be out kicking a ball for hours at a time. Of course, at a young age we didn’t realise how crucial that activity time used to be. However, when I started secondary school and my workload increased. In order to deal with the stress and anxieties from my own work I would go out on my bike for an hour to clear my head before coming home. I was still playing football twice a week which was beneficial for me because it allowed me to escape from everything going on in my head for a little while. In doing this, I would come back less stressed and more relaxed.

It’s amazing what a difference some fresh air can do to you on the mental side as well as the physical side with the body feeling rejuvenated. It is totally understandable that we all have days where we feel low and don’t feel like doing so. There was a time period of a year in which I decided to stop playing football and I saw my mental and physical wellbeing drop, the foods I ate were not healthy and I would go days just constantly eating and feeling guilty for doing so. After having that rough period, I knew I had to do something to make me feel better and so I decided to go back to football. It allowed me to feel like myself again! Now that I am at college, my wellbeing is one of my top priorities and if at any time I feel stressed then I will go on a bike ride and just have a change of scene and feel the breezy fresh air which clears my head as good as new.

How Times Changed

Since the start of 2020 we have all been in lockdown due to COVID-19 which meant that sporting activities were cancelled and therefore, we couldn’t enjoy outdoor or indoor activity that would generally be part of most people’s daily life. According to a survey conducted by Sport England at the beginning of 2021, it was observed that there was a 22.2% increase in walking among those between ages 5-16 as compared to walking activity in 2019 to 2020. These increases could be linked with the 0.6% in girls aged 7-16 and how happy they are be related to doing more physical activity?

The survey showed that group activity levels fell by 6.4% in boys aged 9-11 which unsurprisingly shows that boys are more likely to take part in group activities. With that in mind, boys of these ages may have had a decline in their wellbeing with their confidence and possibly their passion decreasing as they weren’t in those structured environments. 

The effect of happiness from activity especially in girls highlight that during the pandemic girls felt more confident in going out and being more active than in 2019. This could well be down to not having to be at school and having free time for unstructured activities. Could the cancellation of GCSE’s be another influencer on girls in year 11 being happier and active? Various studies have shown the positive impact that physical activity has on well-being, in particular high-intensity exercise. One such research (Norris and Richard, 1992) examined the effect of physical activity on happiness and showed that adolescents’ wellbeing improved in a positive direction when participating in high-intensity aerobic exercise.

Role of Educational Institutions

From those first days in junior school to the last days at University, places of education have always thought about their pupil’s well-being. In primary schools, they use physical education as a way of ensuring that their children maintain healthy amount of mental and physical wellbeing. To encourage this, they may dedicate a certain time period in the school week that is dedicated for the kids to do what they want and interact with their friends away from being taught English, Maths and other subjects. Personally, I think this is a great idea as it gives the kids something to look forward to each week and It gives them a sense of enjoyment which will result in a positive well-being. 

Revising for exams can be stressful for everyone but when asking a secondary school PE teacher, she said that as a school they allow ‘ students to choose what sport they do for PE lessons, we also do extra curriculum after school every day, drop down day which allow students to have a day off-timetable to choose from a variety of activities to do throughout the day as well as giving pupils a questionnaire to fill out regarding how they feel.’ When schools conduct regular checks on student’s wellbeing, it allows them to get to know them a lot more on a personal level and tailor lessons and activities to promote their wellbeing.

Another important aspect is that these small opportunities allow kids to have time to choose what kind of activity makes them happy. In my experience as a college student, my college offers a large variety of curriculum activities in which every student is persuaded to do at least one as it allows them to have time away from constantly studying. It allows them to have fun, meet new people and learn new things. I am a college ambassador and I have plenty of opportunities to help with open evenings, open days, and other events that either help promote Cirencester college or meet other students who look to join the college. For me, this role is a perfect opportunity to clear my head away from my studying and just allow some time to speak to people which almost always benefits my well-being as well.

Some people might have struggled with their mental and physical well-being due to back and forth lockdowns and stress caused by negative news about the pandemic. This is totally understandable as people, especially teenagers, tend to lose motivation. At times like these, we could all do with some motivation. We all gain motivation from different resources: friends, teachers, family members, books, the list goes on. . From a personal point of view, I always found it useful to plan each day and make sure that you allow time for some fresh air or to meet a friend or even go for a run. A bit of physical activity will always be useful and will have a positive impact on your well-being.

About the Author

Kieran Sharp is an enthusiastic football player and future sports psychologist. He will be pursuing sports psychology at university in 2022.

Growing up I had always been interested in sports, in particular football.  I trained as a footballer for most of my life. I don’t see football as just a game, I see it as a distraction from everything around me. I have seen how sport can impact the world in various ways and I want to understand how it can potentially change lives. I am inspired to explore what athletes do ‘behind the scenes to reach new heights. As a future sports psychologist, I am keen to find the deeper meaning of different sports

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