Teenagers from across South Wales have begun a week-long fitness challenge to boost their wellbeing and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marking the start of Children’s Mental Health Week, the ‘Step Up’ challenge will see teens tracking 12.5K steps, the equivalent to 10km, in return for points to spend on wellbeing activities or healthy food.

Those who complete the challenge will earn 10 points, which can be exchanged for items such as two healthy meals in the school canteen or a gym pass.

Recent data by Cardiff University shows one in five (19%) of young people in Wales experienced mental health problems before the pandemic, with another study showing this group suffering the largest deterioration in mental wellbeing as a result of COVID-19.

By increasing their daily steps, teens are likely to see an improvement in their mental health, including a reduction in tension, stress and fatigue in addition to enhanced mood, self-esteem and focus.

The Step Up challenge is a partnership between Newydd Housing Association, and the Cwm Taf Morgannwg and Cardiff and Vale Research, Improvement and Innovation Co-Ordination (RIIC) Hubs.

All organisations work with communities across South Wales to look at ways to improve health and wellbeing in communities.

Newydd Housing Associations’ HAPI Project delivers free activities including Get Fit Wales, which collaborates with schools across South Wales to improve families’ knowledge of fitness and healthy eating.

CASE STUDY

One young person who has benefitted from taking part in a Get Fit Wales challenge is Samy Jo, 19, from Rhondda Cynon Taf.

After experiencing personal trauma and finding it hard to manage on a day-to-day basis, Samy Jo was spending lots of time in her bedroom watching TV. This lifestyle was affecting her physical fitness and her schoolwork, having a negative impact on her life.

Samy Jo’s school, Hawthorn High School in Pontypridd, signed up to Get Fit Wales and she was encouraged by teachers to volunteer with the scheme.

Through daily walks, Samy Jo quickly ramped up her step count, and accrued enough points to buy bags of fruit and vegetables through the Get Fit Wales website.  With lots of fresh food on offer, Samy Jo was able to cook healthy meals for her family, boosting their wellbeing.

To date, Samy Jo has walked over 931,058 steps and is now physically and mentally much better. Inspired by the benefits of a healthier lifestyle, the teen is now planning to go to university to study Occupational Therapy.

Lisa Voyle, Senior Project Officer at the HAPI Project, led by Newydd Housing Association, said:

“It’s no secret that a positive change in lifestyle can have a really good effect on people’s mental health. We know young people have been particularly impacted by the pandemic, and we wanted to find a way to lift their spirits, while benefitting their mental and physical fitness.

“It’s great to have a number of schools involved in the Step Up challenge, but we encourage anyone who is interested in joining in to get involved through the Get Fit Wales website.

“It’s free to join, and once people sign up, they can start tracking their steps and earning points to spend on a range of things, from gym classes to buying fresh food to enjoy at home. We can’t wait to hear from people throughout the week!”

Lizzie Thomas, Engagement Officer at the Cwm Taf Morgannwg Research, Improvement and Innovation Co-Ordination Hub said:

Poor mental health can have a really negative impact on somebody’s life, from their education to relationships, so it’s essential we find new and innovative ways to improve wellbeing.

“At the CTM RIIC Hub we are committed to supporting and spotlighting brilliant examples of partnership working in Rhondda Cynon Taf, Merthyr Tydfil and Bridgend.

“It’s been fantastic to collaborate with a range of people, including Newydd Housing Association and local schools, who are passionate about to making life better for young people across South Wales.

“We hope taking part in the ‘Step Up’ challenge will show young people that they are not alone, and inspire them to learn new skills, whether that’s through a new gym class or cooking more meals at home! We hope people have fun during the week, and we’re really looking forward to hearing people’s experiences.”

Elaine Lewis, RI&IC Hub Lead and Service Improvement Manager at the Cardiff and Vale Research, Improvement and Innovation Co-Ordination Hub said:

“We are excited in Cardiff & Vale to be part of this great project which brings together all partners to achieve the aims of a healthier community.

There is nothing better than having a dose of the good outdoors to boost mental health. Poor mental health can leave many feeling isolated and unmotivated – and the current pandemic has only heightened that.  It has proved a tough time for many but in realising the link between physical and mental health the ‘Step Up’ Challenge shows we are in it together and can help pull each other through.

“With such brilliant rewards of FREE healthy food and activities we are looking forward to seeing the outcomes and achievements of all and planning the next challenge!”