Mental Health. It is becoming increasingly prevalent within society with one in five Australians aged 16-85 experiencing mental illness each year. Almost half of Australians (45%) will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. This is not acceptable.

Mental health is a broad issue with many different cause, factors and consequences. This article will focus on the importance of physical activity in creating positive mental health concerning youth.

With the rise in new technology and its increased availability, playing soccer at the park has turned to playing soccer on the TV. Messaging friends online and talking on Skype has replaced meeting up at the shopping centre or going bowling on a Saturday afternoon. Technology certainly has many advantages, but it has contributed to the decline of physical activity within the youth of Australia.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released a report in 2018, finding that 80% of children and young people aged 5-17 did not meet physical activity recommendations. Moreover, only 36% of children aged 5-8 met the physical activity recommendations highlighting how early children are drawn into technology.

Data from the 2014 Mission Australia’s Youth Survey show that around one in five (21.2%) of young people (15-19 years old) met the criteria for a probable serious mental illness, with Australian youth (18-24 years of age) having the highest prevalence of mental illness than any other age group.

This statistical link between the lack of Physical Activity and the increase in mental health issues is clear, but why is it the case?

Physical activity promotes the release of endorphins and serotonin in your brain which improves emotions. The activity also helps individuals sleep better allowing for deeper rest and the ability to feel more energised throughout the day. Furthermore, regular exercise can reduce stress and help to recover from mental health issues.

I have consciously chosen the word physical activity as opposed to exercise. This is because the physical activity does not have to involve going to the gym or running on a treadmill for an hour. It can be as simple as walking the dog, going for a bike ride or even playing with a frisbee at the park with some friends. This allows for the benefit of social connection which is also vital in helping mental health.

I think there are two helpful ways to introduce or continue participating in physical activity in your life:

1.    Start small. The physical activity doesn’t have to be the recommended hour or pushing your body to the limit trying a half marathon.

2.    Make it fun. Physical activity shouldn’t be perceived as a burden or another task that needs to be completed during the day. Find an activity that you enjoy or gather some friends together to enjoy their company.

There also needs to be a stronger emphasis placed on physical activity within families, school and workplaces. Schools need to do more to encourage physical activity and provide ample opportunities for student participation. Often in the later years of high school students no longer have access to physical activity within school, as the focus is placed on exams. However, this is detrimental for student’s in the long run, as it puts unwarranted stresses upon exams and can harm a student’s concentration capacity.

The relationship between physical activity and mental health is clear statistically and scientifically. Physical activity may not prevent mental health occurring or completely solve the issue, but as a society, we need to focus on improving and prioritising the importance of physical activity for all age groups, but particularly the youth of Australia.

“Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it” – Plato

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