The fact that young people start dropping out of sport towards the age of 16 isn’t exactly news. But potentially it is a major problem for the health of the 15 to 18-year-old cohort. Experts are already saying that this current generation may well be the first ever not to outlive the lifespan of their parents.
The reason for this is quite straight-forward. Speaking at the launch of the Association of Colleges’ conference Why Sport Matters, earlier this year, Dr William Bird told the audience that “inactivity in teenagers has now reached epidemic proportions”.
Most people realise that exercise is closely linked to wellbeing and health. Yet the young are, in their own words, “bailing” on getting involved in physical activity.
That is why teen health resource Doctor Wellgood has launched a new website called Sport No Sweat, to help educate young adults about the benefits of exercise. Here are 11 reasons why they should listen:
30 x 5 = a longer, healthier life
Doctors now say that we need to take exercise that raises our heart rate at least five times a week for 30 minutes. Recent research says that “fit” is important. Far more so than worrying about being fat. Studies that eliminate weight factors clearly show that being fit gives you a longer, healthier life.
People who are thinner but don’t take exercise are more likely to die than people who are fatter who are fit. Of course people who are overweight tend to be less inclined to get and stay fit, but in essence the extra pounds are irrelevant.
This is really the only technical bit so don’t turn off, but it is the starting point. At a cellular level exercise promotes the production of “free-radicals” – the dangerous things that do the nasty stuff to your health. However faced by this upsurge in free radicals your “mitochondrial DNA” releases anti-oxidants which combat the problem.
As the body wants to look after itself these anti-oxidants tend to knock out the free radicals and then hang around on duty for 36 hours or so. Put in simple terms, exercise boosts your immune system – 30 minutes, five times a week covers you pretty much for the whole time. Of course more is even better. Students (and staff alike) who exercise are likely to be much healthier.
However, it is important for older people to realise that you need to do this right through your life. Thinking the fact you were a top rugby player for 20 years and that you can sit back and rest on your laurels simply doesn’t cut it.
Doctors refer to osteoporosis as “the whispering death” or “the silent killer”. Half of all women over-50 have the problem, although many don’t know until they fall over and break a bone. Breaking a hip is one of the most common problems for women with osteoporosis.
Quite amazingly, more than 14,000 people in the UK every year die from complications caused by a broken hip – that’s one every 20 minutes. Around 18 per cent of people who go into hospital with a broken hip die within 12 weeks.
Women typically grow bone tissue until their late 20s or early 30s. Then it starts to decline. Post-menopause it really declines. The best defence against it is to build as much bone density as you can while young.
The problem for women is that osteoporosis starts young – research shows that girls who are 16 but inactive can already have a 12 per cent depletion in bone density compared to girls who exercise. Girls who are anorexic are even more exposed.
Exercise puts a load on bone and the bone responds by building itself up – it is far and away the best preventative measure.
Studies all over the world consistently show that students who exercise do better in exams. Nobody is really sure why this is. Some suggest it is all to do with the cardio-vascular system and oxygen to the brain. However there is no real point trying to second guess why – just do it.
Reazzzzons to be sleepy
We all know that adolescents have different sleep patterns. But it is not a question of being wilfully slothful – nature completely mucks about with the adolescent brain and keeps it awake much later than in children or adults. Nature would like adolescents to go to bed at midnight, sleep until 9:30am and then go to school at 10am. Fat chance.
In effect, the vast majority of students at GCSE or A level are seriously sleep deprived. They need more than nine hours’ sleep and get eight at best. Yet research in the US shows that the difference between a B grade and an A grade may be as simple as an extra 30 minutes kip! Exercise really helps the brain to shut down so young people get to sleep. Playing computer games at night keeps the brain awake.
Exercise is skin deep
Reason five to be active is all to do with looks, as exercise is good for the skin. Anybody who has been for a run or played a physical game of tennis or has got through 90 minutes of football knows that “glow” of health. Skin is a living breathing thing and exercise gets the blood flowing to it and through it. There’s nothing wrong either with a bit of healthy perspiration.
Working on the body beautiful
Sport keeps you fit and toned. People who play sport regularly tend to carry less fat. We are not talking about being “ripped” or “busting your guns” as the vernacular might have it. It is all about being toned, being trimmed and looking lean in jeans. More on this under stress.
Sport can be a major social asset. Reason seven to stay involved is that being in a team is good for self-esteem. You get respect and you learn to work with other people. That leads straight into reason eight – being on a team is good for your CV. Potential employers love people who play on teams. Even if you are into something more singular – like golf or archery – sport is still a great ice-breaker for interviews.
Reason nine is that sport is good for your UCAS application. You might not be a star, but you’ve got an interest, and you have got something that you can bring with you into your new environment that might just add a bit of value to your chosen institution. That brings us to reason 10 – if you play a sport you’ll always have the capacity to make friends. Wherever you are in the civilised world you’ll find like-minded people.
Exercise trumps stress
So exercise is essential for your physical health. It is good for academic performance. It is good for self-esteem and social possibilities. But it is also great for mental health. Our own research demonstrates that seven out of 10 students are stressed out.
Nothing beats stress like exercise. If that’s the only reason to persuade young people not to drop the ball when it comes to sports, that might just be enough.
Further informationDoctor Wellgood has launched a dedicated sports website – www.sportnosweat.com – and produces weekly posters to motivate and educate students that are free for schools to download.
- Al Campbell is CEO and editor in chief of Doctor Wellgood, a new online health and wellbeing magazine and resource for students and young adults. Visit www.doctorwellgood.com