Turn on the news any day of the week and chances are you’ll hear a story about obesity, mental health issues or sedentary lifestyles among the UK’s young people. According to data from the NHS and Sport England, around a third of school-age children fail to meet the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines of taking part in sport and physical activity for 60 minutes or more every day. For this, and other complicated reasons, one in three are overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school.
There’s plenty of evidence out there to prove that physical challenge not only does your body good, it’s great for your state of mind, too. It improves mood, promotes better sleep and can help to manage stress and anxiety.
Working in partnership with our neighbour, the University of Exeter, the mental-health charity Mind discovered that 94% of people felt better mentally after taking outdoor exercise. Studies have even suggested it’s as effective as antidepressants in managing mild to moderate depression. And young people who grow up active are more likely to continue the habit of exercising through their adult lives.
The adventure of visiting somewhere new impacts young travellers in a lot of ways. Their eyes are opened by extraordinary landscapes, they meet interesting people with fascinating lives and experience cultures far removed from their own. To complement this, in most of our expeditions, we layer in an element of physical challenge, too. That’s because we recognise its importance in making a trip memorable and transformative.
There are many benefits to be reaped from school expeditions that encourage you to really get a sweat on. Students (and teachers) who undertake tough activities – from high-altitude hiking to white-water rafting – learn something about themselves. It can be a revelation to achieve something you thought you couldn’t, or which you’d never ordinarily consider trying. Digging deep to muster the mental and physical strength to finish the course is exhilarating, energising and inspiring. A lot of the students who come on expedition would never even have entertained the notion that they had the stamina to scale a frozen peak or the nerve to abseil into a cave. It makes them realise they have untapped potential and opens their eyes to other possibilities they may have written off.
In their Active Lives Children and Young People Survey (2018/19), Sport England found that alongside informal activity (such as walking to school) the most popular ways for young people to get physical were team-based sports. The rewards of working as part of a team and the pleasure of a collective sense of achievement are something we see all the time in the groups we travel with. So here at STC Expeditions, we’re not surprised that team sports are riding high.
As well as self-reliance and personal development, the added bonus of pushing your limits as part of a group is the sense of shared achievement and belonging. Being part of something, helping other people out and understanding the benefits of mutual reliance can be a revelation. While there may be some healthy competition at play, we position all of our activities to be cooperative, so our young travellers appreciate that a whole lot can be achieved when you pull together. And the collective sense of jubilation they have when they reach that summit or share a sense of physical exhaustion at the end of a tough day? That’s the priceless part.