New student health program seeing promising results

New student health program seeing promising results

A high intensity physical activity program targeting senior high school students has scored a positive report card, not only improving students’ fitness, but also their mental well-being.

Created by University of Newcastle and Australian Catholic University researchers in collaboration with the NSW Department of Education, the Burn 2 Learn pilot program, which features short but intense workouts, has been designed to address the decreasing amount of physical activity adolescents do as they get older.

Using the science of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), which involves short bursts of high intensity activity, interspersed with brief periods of low-intensity active recovery or rest, Burn 2 Learn aims to improve students' health and fitness, with potential flow on effects for their mental well-being and academic performance.

Lead researcher, Professor David Lubans, said the Burn 2 Learn program was designed to be fun, engaging and time efficient.

“High intensity activity is very potent and lab-based studies have found that HIIT can improve aspects of mental health and cognitive function, both of which are important for academic performance,” Professor Lubans said.

“Young people who are doing well at school also tend to be fitter and more active. Unfortunately, increasing time demands and academic pressures in the final years of school drive many senior school students to sacrifice time usually spent being active.”

Professor Lubans said his team designed the Burn 2 Learn program so students could get the maximum physical, psychological and cognitive benefits of physical activity in the minimum amount of time.

International physical activity guidelines recommend that adolescents, the age bracket from 13 to 17 years, should engage in a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity each day.

“In addition to the recommended 60 minutes of activity a day, it is suggested that adolescents engage in muscle and bone strengthening activities, such as resistance training, on at least three days per week,” Professor Lubans said.

“However, in spite of the well-established benefits, physical activity levels decline by about seven per cent each year during the teenage years, and approximately 80 per cent of adolescents worldwide are not satisfying current physical activity recommendations.”

The research team’s preliminary findings suggests that school-based HIIT can positively impact health-related fitness and improve mental health in older adolescents.

“The final years of school are a great time to introduce students to the benefits of HIIT to assist them through a difficult period in their lives and support their lifelong participation in physical activity,” Professor Lubans said.

In 2020, the research team, in collaboration with the NSW Department of Education will pursue additional funding to rollout the program throughout NSW secondary schools.