Mental Health and Well-Being Snapshot: October 2022
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Healthy Habits and Well-being
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For some of us, this past long weekend might have been a reminder of healthy habits we strive to include more regularly in a typical week - connecting with loved ones over food, maybe an extra day to catch up on sleep, or a chance to get outside and go for a walk with family or friends. Some people may think of these kinds of healthy habits as distinct from mental health, but this snapshot will show that they are closely connected, and improvements in one area tend to bring about positive change in other areas.

How are young people doing?

South Vancouver Island data from the 2018 McCreary Centre Report shows that there are some real successes in the healthy habits our young people are developing, with many students at the younger end of the the youth spectrum getting eight or more hours of sleep, over 50% of students exercising for 60+ minutes four or more days of the week, and many students making fruit, vegetables, and water a part of their daily nutrition. There are of course some areas for growth as well - the decline in student sleep as they age into young adults is worrisome, as are the percentages of students who are getting no, or very little, exercise each week.  And a major concern is the reality that some school age youth are going to bed hungry. Take a look at a few of the charts pulled from that survey below, or follow the link above for the full read.
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What does this mean for youth mental health and well-being?

There are correlations that can be drawn from some of this data that suggest a relationship between positive mental health/well-being and healthy habits like sleep, exercise, and healthy eating.  And the really good news is that a positive lifestyle change in one area, can often positively impact other areas - better sleep = more energy for exercise = more likely to choose healthy meals to fuel your activities, and so on. There has been a lot of research in this area in recent years; below are some connections that were drawn in the McCreary youth survey data.
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Video: How Food, Movement, and Sleep can have an impact on you

This video from the the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has some excellent advice about small changes we can make in our daily choices that will impact our mood and well-being. Simple actions like opening the blinds when we first wake up, replacing one snack with a healthy option, or using an app to track our water intake can start the change process, lead to noticeable differences in energy levels and mood, and progress to more and bigger steps down the road. The video also makes the excellent point that while healthier habits will be a game-changer for many people, there are times when we also need to seek support or advice from medical professionals.

This short video is a great watch on your own, or could start some important discussions in the classroom or at home as well. Teachers, here is a link to the video with a few reflection questions attached for use in the classroom.
Healthy eating

Healthy eating and mental health

Kelty Mental Health is a trusted resource on child and youth mental health topics, and is routinely used by health and education professionals, as well as parents and families. Their site has articles, videos, and links to other resources that tackle many common concerns around mental health and well-being, including healthy eating.

The Kelty page on healthy eating explains that "Good nutrition supports mental health and well-being, giving your body and brain the power and nourishment it needs. 

When children and youth eat healthy, it can boost their mood, concentration, and help maintain energy throughout the day. They can perform better in school, and feel better about themselves, their bodies, and their abilities. 

Fueled by nutritious meals and snacks, children can also cope more easily with stress, better manage their emotions, and improve sleep habits. Eating well is also about having healthy attitudes and behaviours around food and eating."

Learn more about this topic at the link under the image, and find information on strategies to choose healthy foods that kids will eat, manage challenges such as picky eating or body image concerns, or navigate issues such as appetite and medication.

Starting healthy eating discussions in the classroom

There are many ways to engage your classroom in discussions about healthy choices and where food comes from. If you're looking for some starting points, Agriculture in the Classroom BC (BCAITC) has put together a Fall Ag-Activity Pack, which has quick trivia and activities, crafty and creative projects, as well as kid-friendly recipes using largely local ingredients. Click the link for this resource appropriate for grades 2-7.


What does "a good night's sleep" mean at different ages?

"Adolescence phase delay." For any teenagers reading this, try using that phrase the next time bedtimes come up in your conversation with parents! If the phrase itself is a new one for you, I'm sure the habits are not. Adolescence phase delay is simply the (biologically driven) desire to go to bed and rise later, which is a natural shift in sleep patterns for adolescents.

This shift to later sleep and wake times is also important for parents to understand, for a couple of reasons. First off, this could save many parents the frustration of trying to impose unrealistic bedtimes on a person who will struggle to fall asleep at an early hour. However, we also know that this phase delay can be compounded by artificial light, so parents should feel comfortable setting reasonable limits for lights off and screen-free time.

And what if you have a younger person at home? Like older youth, a core support for school-age children to experience a good sleep are the pillars of exercise and healthy nutrition. An hour or more of vigorous exercise and balanced meals throughout the day can help set up a student for a good night's rest. 

With any student, setting consistent sleep/wake times that don't deviate that much between weekend and weekday will help ensure quality sleep. For more detailed tips, follow the link under the image for age-specific dos and don'ts.

What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene is the term used to describe best practices for a good night's sleep. Everyone will have their own routines, but there are some universal strategies that seem to benefit most people:

Be consistent - stick to the same sleep and wake times as much as possible

Exercise regularly - 30-60 minutes at least three days per week is a great minimum (see exercise section below for age-specific guidelines to strive for)

Avoid substances that can interfere with sleep (Caffeine and alcohol are among the worst offenders)

Relaxation/unwinding activities before bed (hint, not screen time!)

Click the link below to read more!


How much exercise do we need?

Recent research suggests that school aged young people really benefit from at least one hour a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity. The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology's recommendations incorporate that recent research, and you can see a snapshot of what they recommend below. Importantly, those same guidelines also set recommended imits on sedentary behaviour. 
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While it would be nice to meet the CSEP guidelines every day, many of us (including this snapshot writer!) are not there yet. It's important to keep in mind that some exercise is better than none. Maybe we're only fitting in an extended workout two or three times a week, but if we're also making choices to get moving in other small ways throughout our day, this gives us a starting point to slowly grow those activities and get closer to that ideal that CSEP presents. View the full guidelines for school age children and youth, as well as guidelines for other populations at the link below.


Participaction's 2022 report card on physical activity for children and youth

If this was a school report card, I'd worry it might get "lost" on the journey home. The systems supporting physical activity for canadian children and youth received low marks for overall physical activity, sedentary behaviours, active transportation, and active play. The good news is that the report card comes with recommendations on ways to strengthen what we're doing. Click here for the full report card, or follow the links below for strategies to support physical activity:

Strategies for educators to help kids get moving at school

Strategies to help kids get moving at home
School and district resources

How healthy habits can start at school

The Physical and Health Education classes at all schools are already addressing many of these components of healthy habits in various ways throughout every school year. Discussing what your child is learning and doing in their PHE classes may help reinforce that learning or make new connections to their own world outside of school.

The BC Curriculum site gives an overview of PHE course content and can lead to some age-appropriate prompting questions. Ask your child in grade two about how they know when their body is working hard during exercise, or get curious about how your teenager uses the heart rate monitor on their smart watch. And if you're looking for activities to try out at home, the PHE Canada site has a collection of at-home lesson plans that address a number of healthy habits such as getting active and healthy eating.

In addition to PHE classrooms, there are other opportunities within every school building to support a student's interest or motivation in healthy change. Check out the "athletics" section of your school's website for an overview of opportunities throughout the year, and to find a sport or activity that aligns with your child's interests. And although the counsellors in schools are not sleep, exercise, or nutrition specialists, they can still often point youth and their families toward relevant community resources or support a student's personal goals.

Mental Wellness Hub

Saanich School District's Mental Wellness Hub is another place where resources connected with healthy habits are collected. We try to update the site regularly, so please check back often!