The healthy messages all girls need to hear
By Fawn Logan Young
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to work with Halifax Regional Municipality Recreation to facilitate a few sessions at an afterschool program called Fit and Fab. At the time, the Canadian Health Measures Survey from Statistics Canada reported that kids are highly sedentary between 3 and 6 PM, also known as the After-School Time Period (ASTP). Additionally, reports by Canadian Women and Sports found that 1 in 3 girls stop participating in sports and physical activity before late adolescence. This is why a program like Fit and Fab came to fruition, to help promote physical activity among this vulnerable demographic.
As I do with any of my facilitation sessions, I began by creating workshops from scratch to cater directly to the participants. I tried to put myself in the shoes of the girls I would be working with. I wanted to draw upon my own personal experiences from when I was a young girl and bring in my love for the outdoors.
There are three things I wish adults would have told me in my adolescence regarding my health:
1 Health does not necessarily correlate to weight. In North America, young girls often get messaging from popular culture that extra body weight is bad. This stigma impacts the mental health of girls. When we relate this to physical activity, girls can become discouraged because weight loss has become the end goal, instead of the benefit of exercise itself.
2 Sufficient exercise does not need to be intense. I have met many girls who have told me they get anxiety when they think about gym class. There seems to be the assumption among some young girls that if they are not athletic, physical activity is unattainable. We have failed young girls in some cases by not encouraging low impact activities, reassuring that sufficient exercise can be as simple as going for a walk. One does not need to run track or do the Beep Test to gain the benefits of physical activity, as often promoted.
3 Physical and mental health are holistic, not binary. Yes, we often hear that exercise can aid in the mental health of individuals; however, it is often talked about as if our physical and mental selves are separate.
Although these concepts might seem complex for young girls, I was able to get this messaging to them in a simple way through outdoor activities. In one session, we did a trail clean up. We discussed how important it is to keep our planet clean and that the same respect we show for it, we should for ourselves, physically and mentally. Another activity was a simple mindfulness walk we hiked in silence, listened, and then shared what we had heard. Many girls expressed the calming effect the walk had created. One participant shared how things that were once just sounds turned into music.
Creating safe spaces outside for girls opens lines of communication. I was able to better understand their personal perceptions of health and to gain greater insight into how they maintain their health. I also had the opportunity to give them my own insight, as it was not long ago that I was in their shoes.
What I had wished participants would take from these sessions was that physical activity does not need athleticism and that nature has the power to fulfill our holistic wellbeing. This message is simply meant to provide parents and teachers with insight, not to stoke further anxiety about childhood wellbeing. Simplifying the definition of exercise and utilizing nature’s gifts might be the key in creating spaces in which girls feel welcomed and confident enough to participate in physical activity.
Fawn Logan-Young is a Haligonian currently studying at the University of Ottawa. She writes about nature, travel, and social phenomena. differentrooute.com