Help young people make informed decisions about health and fitness

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Brian MacKenzie is a Level 4 Performance Coach and Coach Tutor/Assessor with UK Athletics - UK's National Governing body for Track and Field Athletics. He has over 40 years' experience as an endurance athlete and over 25 years' experience as an athletics coach.

Here in this guest blog piece on our theme of Physical Education (our theme for January), Brian addresses the social pressures on young people from the media about health and fitness and how you can help educate your students to make informed decisions.

The media and internet are full or articles about what or how much we should eat and the amount or type of exercise that we should undertake.

Despite all our professional knowledge as educators of physical education, it can be tempting to take a peek on websites and blogs to see what fad is being promoted as an effective exercise and diet regime. We are fortunate enough to be able to use our professional knowledge to balance the myriad of diets, exercise regimes and fads to ensure that we make sensible choices, keeping our health at the forefront of our minds. Our students, on the other hand, do not have such detailed knowledge and may turn to these fads to help with their health and body image.

There is huge pressure on young people to look slim, fit and healthy yet at the same time be sociable - often involving drinking alcohol. The turmoil of balancing food, exercise and a social life can become confusing and young people often look for the quick fix; the diet that promises that perfect body in 31 days, the exercise routine that will give the bikini body just in time for the next school holiday. The media promotes ideals through advertising campaigns and it is all too easy to want to look like the latest celebrity or sports idol. Eating disorders do affect both males and females and school-age students are particularly vulnerable to both anorexia and bulimia. The question is, when our students start to ask questions about how they can be healthier and fitter, what advice do we give them and where do we signpost them towards to look for additional information?

One site which may be of interest in providing a wealth of information This site contains information on a wealth of related subjects including training, diet and nutrition. It helps to bust the myths of the low carbohydrate diet and gives advice for vegetarians who want to ensure they get a healthy and balanced diet. As professionals, our support for students to create the correct type of training programme for their individual needs is critical. Rather than directing students to the myriad of websites available, taking the time to discuss their strengths, weaknesses and goals will be significantly more effective to support them in their quest for health and wellbeing. We have a responsibility to educate our young people to make sensible choices on diet and exercise for life - the best time for this journey to commence is whilst they are under our guidance and care.

Brian MacKenzie