Teen Breathe

Fit for Life

Too fat, too thin, too tall, too short. Most people have hang-ups that put them off taking part in sport. Yet physical activity is one of the best ways of keeping your body and mind healthy and making sure you’re in a good place on the starting line – now and in the future

Guess what… you’ve won the evolutionary lottery. You are the lucky owner of the
most evolved biological system on planet Earth – your amazing body, human brain
and nervous system.

But when do you ever feel like that? It’s a bit like owning a Ferrari and never knowing it can shift up from first gear. Yet women have proven they have – and know how to use – top gear. Swimmer Ellie Simmonds won two of her 26 gold medals aged just 13; cyclist Laura Trott’s haul of 25 gold medals matches her age; 21-year-old Dina Asher-Smith became the first-ever British woman to run the 100m in under 11 seconds in 2015; and Johanna Konta, 26, reached the semi-finals at this year’s Wimbledon.

For many, however, real worries about body image, the thought of a tomato-red face, sweating too much and a general feeling of clumsiness or being judged make sport a no-go area. Uninspiring PE programmes don’t help either – 51 per cent of less-active girls say PE and sport at school actually puts them off being physically active – and the fear of just not being very good is a common anxiety.

Sport for Wellbeing

Physical activity isn’t just about being fit. It promotes a positive outlook and emotional intelligence because it has a deep and long-lasting impact on wellbeing. How? It’s all down to mood-enhancing endorphins that are produced by the brain during sustained exercise. At the same time, the stress hormone called cortisol is lowered, so you are less likely to feel anxious. Exercise really can lift your mood like nothing else – a nice, healthy antidote to all the outside pressures on you to look a certain way.

Here are just a few of the benefits of regular exercise:

» Healthy bones and muscles

» Positive mental wellbeing and reduced feelings of depression and anxiety

» Better cognitive function and improved self-confidence

» Improved sleep

» A broad social network

» Good team-building skills and a sense of community (witness Team GB’s Olympic gold medal-winning hockey girls in 2016 or the recent triumph of the England cricket team)

» A place to find your voice and reach out to positive role models who truly reflect your values and feed your mind and self-image with good vibes only

» It can keep you fit and switched on throughout life. Long-distance runner Jo Pavey was 40 when she won the 10,000m gold medal at the 2014 European Championship, 10 months after giving birth to her second child

So, as hard as it might be, try to stop worrying about how you look (there are few people of any age who feel totally confident about their body) because sport could support you when you need it the most. Health and fitness matter more than looks and size. Physical activity will help you to feel calmer, less anxious and more aware of your inner feelings – and more able to perform at crucial events, both on and off the pitch. From competitive races to exams and interviews to stage acting, the wellbeing benefits of exercise can help you get to the starting line like a champion.

Photo: John Hesse New Bournes Roller Derby

This Girl Can

Just like an elite athlete at the starting line you, too, can experience the many wellbeing benefits of sport and fitness. Here are a few groups on your side…

The recently launched Girls Active campaign aims to tackle girls’ negative attitudes about body image, improve attitudes towards PE and to work with schools to make sport more relevant to  young women’s lives. Visit youthsporttrust.org/girls-active.

This Girl Can is a campaign celebrating active women who are doing their thing no matter how they look, how red their face gets or how ‘well’ they do it. Funded by the National Lottery and developed by Sport England, it aims to help women overcome the fear of judgement that stop so many from even thinking about trying sports they might love. Find out more at thisgirlcan.co.uk.

The Body Positive movement – thebodypositive.org – encourages the mindset that all bodies should be strong and healthy regardless of size or shape and both #StrongNotSkinny and #GirlGains aim to empower, inspire, educate and motivate women to be the best version of themselves.

Find Your Sport

From running to rowing and boxing to badminton, there’s a sport out there with your name on it. The important thing is to find an activity you enjoy. There are many clubs dotted around the UK where you can cycle, swim, play hockey, cricket or football, practise yoga or perform gymnastics – an online search will identify the ones closest to you. In the meantime, here are a few of the less obvious activities you might consider…

PICKLEBALL: part badminton, part tennis. This is the fastest-growing request sport in the UK. Learn more at pickleball.org.uk.

ROLLER DERBY: an adrenaline-fuelled, full-contact game, where players skate around an elliptical track trying to block opponents. Sign up at UKRDA.org.uk.

INDOOR CLIMBING: an increasingly popular sport that improves fitness and coordination. Many clubs run taster sessions, which are a great way to start out. Visit the British Mountaineering Council at thebmc.co.uk for details.

LET’S DANCE: recent research has shown that dance comes only second to football as the most popular activity of choice for secondary-school age students. Search online for classes and groups in your local area or try danceschools-uk.co.uk as a starting point.

  • Words: Natalie Pennicotte-Collier. Natalie is a TeamGB and wellbeing expert from Mindtonictherapy.com and INSTA @CalmerRama
  • Photographs: Shutterstock
  • Article originally from issue 1 of Teen Breathe