I received an invitation to attend a workshop addressing the mental health of K-12 students tri-sponsored by the local school district, county public health department, and a university teaching preparation program (all located in a prominent west coast city).
The beautiful flyer described the breakout sessions—bullying and cyberbullying, suicide prevention, lgbtq students, depression, tobacco prevention, adolescent development—but NOTHING about physical activity.
Respecting the complexity of mental health, regular physical activity can catalyze emotional well-being (and positively impact each of the workshop topics). From producing endorphins, burning anxiety, enhancing a sense of satisfaction, self-esteem, and positive body image, to sharpening clarity and analytical reasoning, physical activity can uniquely and profoundly optimize mental/emotional function.

One very brief phone call revealed it simply didn’t occur to the organizing committee to include it! Yikes! After a bit of ponder, here is one explanation and its take away.

In general, this region has provided decades of deficient school-based physical activity programming. Of course, there are pockets where it’s amazing, but more so it’s lousy (state policy doesn’t help). The majority of the workshop organizers are products of the local school district, thus were subjected to poor quality physical activity programming. Fast forward several years and knowing these folks, they are overweight and struggle to get ANY exercise, much less sustain a habit. Early positive physical activity experiences set the stage for a lifelong habit, and the sad converse, early poor experiences dissuade subsequent participation by choking motivation. The message is, we can’t afford to provide less than QUALITY school-based physical activity programming.

(In general) This region is now replete with (several generations of) adults who have under-developed physical activity portfolios (‘Iron Footprints’), lack the motivation to sustain regular exercise, and all-together just don’t ‘get’ physical activity, literally or figuratively. Net/net, as the response I received indicates, it’s simply not on their radar.

While recognizing as adults we are all responsible for our own wellbeing, and there isn’t anything that will correct the ills of early experiences, it’s well in our hands to make sure we don’t lose any more generations. Advocate for, and make sure your school’s activity programming is quality. If it’s not on the radar get it there.