Ms Sarah Boyle, Head of O’Connor House

This week, Girls Grammar athletes competed in the 100th Queensland Girls Secondary School Sporting Association (QGSSSA) Athletics Carnival in the 110th year of QGSSSA.

The 115 members of the Girls Grammar Athletics team focused their time and energy on training during the past term so they could do their best at the carnival. Sometimes they produced personal bests and sometimes they missed the start or stumbled at the jump. Though disappointing in the moment, in the grand scheme of things, students still gain many benefits from the experience, simply from being involved in physical activity. Balancing academic commitments with physical activity is an asset for students’ wellbeing and wider success in all areas of their life. The best part: it can be free.

It has long been understood that engaging in physical activity has benefits for mental health. According to psychologist and leading expert in adolescent mental health, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, ‘research shows, regular physical activity and exercise leads to changes in the brain. It improves cognitive function, elevates mood, improves learning and reduces “stress chemicals” like cortisol’ (n.d.).

Dr Wendy Suzuki, Professor of Neural Science and Psychology at New York University, outlines the key effects of physical activity. In short, Suzuki claims that exercise ‘brings about better mood, better energy, better memory and better attention’ (TED, 2017). Consequently, for adolescents whose prefrontal cortex is ‘shut for renovations’ during this period of their lives, physical activity can help them consolidate school work, feel confident within themselves and boost their ability to manage the ups and downs of the social playground (Wallis, 2018).

Current Year 12 students involved in physical exercise, whether via individual pursuits or in a team sport, feel that it helps them manage demands in all areas of their lives. Sally Finch (12H) said that ‘without physical activity, I don’t feel as motivated, upbeat or focused when it comes to performing other day-to-day tasks’ (Personal interview,17 October, 2018).  Sally likens sport to mindfulness, ‘as it allows my brain to refocus and my mind is diverted from thinking about my studies or other matters.’ Sally also mentioned that ‘playing sport provides an outlet for the array of ideas and new concepts swirling around in my head’. Alexandra Muratidis (12O) shares these sentiments, stating that she finds her focus and application to her school work is ‘improved significantly after exercise’, and finds she can approach general routines with a ‘better frame of mind’ (Personal interview, October 17, 2018).

While the brain is the most complex and least known structure of the human body, we do know that physical activity has immediate, long-lasting and protective benefits. Physical activity changes the brain by increasing the mood hormones like dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline, which can stay elevated for up to two hours after exercise (Suzuki, TED, 2017).  To see long-lasting effects and the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus we should adopt a regular exercise routine. Through exercise, the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex get bigger and stronger which will, over time, protect the brain against neurodegenerative diseases. While this is not at the forefront of adolescents’ minds, if they adopt and approach physical activity as part of their daily lives, it will support them throughout adulthood.

In the late 1970s the Australian Government adopted the Life. Be in it. campaign to promote the importance of daily activity, and Norm, (the sedentary male couch-potato who slowly came around to the idea of exercise) became a national icon. The campaign’s message seems even more important today, as children and teenagers’ screen time leads to sedentary lifestyles. The government’s health recommendation for young people aged 12 to 18 is 60 minutes of physical activity daily (Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines, 2017). Following this guideline will help to elevate aerobic health, strengthen muscles, improve oxygen delivery, attain and maintain a healthy body weight, as well as decreasing the risk of diseases like Type 2 Diabetes and high blood pressure. The activity does not have to be highly organised. The simple action of walking bears weight and strengthens bones, working towards the prevention of bone density loss in later life.

Participating in organised team sports brings other learning opportunities for teenagers that can be applied in many areas of their life. A sense of belonging to a group is fundamentally important for teenagers, and can be found in sporting groups. There are a wide range of sports and physical activities on offer at Girls Grammar that are both competitive and non-competitive, which foster connections with other students, helping them find like-minded peers. By participating in these activities, students also learn to work within a team, respect authority and make a commitment and dedicate themselves to the activity. When engaging in competitive activities they learn to manage disappointment when they don’t win, miss their personal best time or suffer a setback. They learn through the help of their coach and their team to bounce back and learn from mistakes. All of these are important lessons and skills to develop as they progress toward adulthood (Nikolic, 2015).

We may never all be elite athletes, or even manage to find those 60 minutes of physical activity every day, but we can all do something to increase our activity levels. Walk to Level 5 of the RLC a few more times a day. Take a slightly longer route as you walk from home to the bus stop. Get dropped a few blocks from school or work to increase your step count.  However you choose—let’s move it.



Australian Government, The Department of Health (21 Nov, 2017). Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines. http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/health-pubhlth-strateg-phys-act-guidelines

Carr-Gregg, M. (nd). Physical Activity & Exercise. Retrieved from http://bggs.qld.schooltv.me/newsletter/physical-activity-exercise

Life. Be in it. Funworks. (2018). Life. Be in it. Retrieved from https://lifebeinitfunworks.com.au/about-us/

Nikolic, I. (24 Sept, 2015). 10 Psychological and social benefits of sport for kids. Retrieved from https://uqsport.com.au/10-psychological-and-social-benefits-of-sport-for-kids/

Suzuki, W. [TED] (2017, November). The brain changing benefits of exercise. TEDWomen New Orleans, Louisana. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/wendy_suzuki_the_brain_changing_benefits_of_exercise?language=en#t-7111

Wallis, N. (4 June, 2018). Neuroscience and Learning. ACEL conference Brisbane