Personal health and wellbeing for children have never been more important. Earlier this month, it was announced that a UK health authority1 would reserve the right to deny operations, to those who were obese, as a cost-cutting strategy. If these patients need an operation, they’d have to attend a weight management programme for six months in the hope to encourage them to take up a healthier lifestyle. Currently the NHS spends almost £9 billion on patient care, specifically for those with weight-related illnesses it’s increasing each year.
Our recent Health Check Report2 revealed that a third (31%) of children aged 2-15 are overweight, however, parents believe only 9% of children are. This shows that some parents aren’t aware of how poor their child’s health could really be.
One way children can improve their overall health and wellbeing can be through the participation of outdoor activities. Professor Fred Coalter, of Sports Policy at the University of Stirling3 explained that “exercise can be effective in improving mental well-being via improved mood and physical self-perception.”
Time to get off the couch
We recently spoke to Roddy Macdonald, who works with the AYR United Football Academy – a previous Aviva Community Fund winner. AUFA provides the local community with lots of different football programmes – aimed at people of all ages and abilities.
“Our overall objective is to create more positive and healthy young people leading to safer, healthier and more inclusive communities,” MacDonald told us.
AUFA doesn’t just provide primary and secondary school programmes. The academy also delivers projects such as ‘walking football’ for the elderly, ‘Weigh to go’ for adults looking to lose weight, and sessions and for people suffering from mental illnesses. When we spoke to Macdonald, he enlightened us with one inspiring story about one member of the academy.
In our mental health programme, I was approached by the wife of one participant. She stated that not only was her husband fitter physically but also mentally. She believed that participation in the programme not only improved his life - but had helped to save it. This programme had a life changing and positive impact on the whole family.
Exercise, particularly football, is a great way to look after the body. A FIFA study from Switzerland revealed that football is significantly better for health than going for a run or lifting weight when it comes to burning off fat4. Physical activity, in general, is also great for the mind; it reduces anxiety – bringing happier moods, reduced stress and risk of depression, clearer thinking, increased self-esteem and a greater sense of calm5.
Kick off a healthier lifestyle
Our report6 revealed that almost a third (31%) of parents believe they could do more to improve their family’s health. More than a third of families (35%) highlighted that they want to get more active in the next year, followed by 32% wanting to lose weight. However, parents flagged barriers that prevent them from improving their family’s health, such as time (24%), finances (21%), and motivation (20%).
Macdonald understands there’s a problem, explaining that “obesity is a significant and growing issue. There are longer term implications which will affect the quality of later life - this includes the dangers of diabetes.”
We worked with Macdonald, to highlight four key reasons why children benefit from participating in outdoor activities:
Beneficial for health
Any form of physical activity is proven to reduce illness – minor and harmful illnesses, such as heart disease, strokes, type two diabetes, cancer etc7. Macdonald told us how schools in the local area noted an “impact of improved physical health on educational participation and attainment.” Outdoor activities in particular help to burn off more calories and tones the whole body, because of aspects like wind resistance, and uneven ground or slopes8.
The feel-good factors
Outdoor sports are fantastic for keeping a healthy mind. Macdonald shared with us how young people benefit “mentally through improved confidence and self-esteem, and socially through making friends and being happier people. This benefits them at school and at home.” Fresh air, and an increase in oxygen intake releases chemicals in the brain that make children feel good – and the changing scenery stops them from getting bored.
Outdoor activities don’t have to be about playing sports with people of the same age, they’re a great way for families to bond and improve relationships. “We have noted that families participating in healthier activities together appear to be happier and more coherent in terms of relationships,” Macdonald explained, “and they’re not afraid to show their affection to each other.” This highlights how participating in activities together not only improves the family bond, but children feel they can share their feelings with one another. This is the same for participating in team sports. They can also help to form new friendships, for children to share experiences with others who enjoy the same activity.
Better life choices
Macdonald highlighted how the academy aims to create healthier and more inclusive communities with the programmes they provide across all age groups, especially school children. “They’re more likely to think twice when offered life choices which are not positive, be that alcohol or other substances.” Exercise, particularly outside, helps to relieve stress and anxiety, which impacts mood and thinking – in turn increasing the possibility of making a bad life choice, such as resorting to alcohol or drugs to feel better.
Step outside into the unknown
Outdoor activities not only help with physical health but mental health and wellbeing, as well as building relationships and making positive life choices - but it doesn’t have to be through football alone. We’ve also highlighted how outdoor activities benefit individual children, families and communities. Although football’s been used as an example, there’s a range of different sports and activities for all ages and abilities to participate in; popular sports include walking, running and cycling. If children spend time doing outdoor activities now, it’ll have a lasting positive impact on their health in the future – reducing the possibility of weight-related illnesses9.
Aviva Health Check Report Autumn 2016
Aviva Health Check Report Autumn 2016