There are many reasons why society needs to support girls and young women to get active. Physical inactivity is increasingly common and there are growing concerns over the nation’s health, but small changes in activity can make big differences to health and wellbeing.
That’s where the work of charities can really help drive this change in our culture – take for example mental health charity, Mind, and its new campaign; Get Set to Go, which promotes the benefits of exercise and physical activity for people with mental health problems, specifically targeting women. This is a much welcomed approach to combat an important issue. It’s well documented that being physically active can boost mental wellbeing, but those active experiences need to be fun and enjoyable.
Their recent research found that women with mental health problems are not exercising because of bad experiences with PE at school – putting them at greater risk of poor physical and mental health. I’m not surprised. PE and sport needs to appeal to girls from a very young age, so they are interested and WANT to take part – it’s simple. Bad experiences at a young age don’t shift easily, so we need to get it right from the start.
As far back as 1998, the Youth Sport Trust worked with Nike to develop our first girls PE and sport programme for schools targeted at girls’ participation and attitudes towards PE and sport. More recently, we developed our Girls Active approach to engage girls in physical education and physical activity which is now delivered in partnership with Sport England and Women in Sport.
The development of these programmes happened against a backdrop of cultural change for young people – improvements in technology, increasing sedentary behaviours and decreasing levels of body confidence, but despite excellent practice in some schools, the national trend for physical activity among teenage girls is still declining. According to Youth Sport Trust research, 51% of less active girls say that PE and sport at school actually put them off being physically active.
At the Youth Sport Trust, we recognise that rather than being ‘the problem’, teenage girls are the solution to changing attitudes and taking these habits into adulthood. Girls Active is empowering girls across the country to have a say in how PE and physical activity should be delivered in schools – they are deciding for themselves what they want to do. By doing this, and encouraging them to be role models amongst their peers, they are more likely to take part in activity and feel that PE is more relevant and useful to their daily lives.
Girls Active has already made a positive difference, with schools reporting that it is improving girls attitudes to school, raising girls ‘confidence and self esteem and increasing levels participation in sporting activities and fitness among girls. These results are significant. From our Girls Active pilot, the numbers stating they were happy with the way their bodies look more than doubled while those unhappy with the way their body looked more than halved.
Our Girls Active camp which took place in March is a great example of what can be achieved when girls have an opportunity to collaborate. 150 girls from across the country attended a three day camp at Loughborough University to develop their leadership and influencing skills, so they could become role models back in their schools and encourage their peers to get active. These are young girls that aren’t naturally interested in sport or being active, but by taking them out of their comfort zone and giving them a chance to have a say - resulted in improved attitudes and behaviour towards being active.
Girls Active has been successful in developing positive attitudes towards PE and sport and gives girls the confidence and desire to take part. More significantly, the approach has had a profound impact on the emotional wellbeing and attitudes of girls and they are the characteristics that dictate the future activity habits.
I truly believe that campaigns which raise these important issues, will have a lasting impact on the lifestyles and emotional wellbeing of young women across the UK.
Find out more about our work to tackle girls’ inactivity.