A report by an Edge Hill University researcher has been launched in a bid to inform new government policy on the mental health benefits of sport and physical activity following the Covid-19 pandemic.
Professor Andy Smith led the research underpinning the policy brief, Moving for Mental Health, which sets out evidence-based recommendations for government policy to protect and enhance the contribution of physical activity, sport and sport for development to mental health in the UK.
Andy Smith, a Professor of Sport and Physical Activity at Edge Hill, said: “The impact of Covid-19 on people’s mental health and wellbeing cannot be overstated. It has brought to light how significant mental health inequalities which existed prior to Covid-19 have since worsened, especially among those living in under-served and low-income communities.
“Our research is calling on the Government and other public bodies to invest in the provision of movement opportunities for mental health across multiple policy sectors, using the evidence presented as a basis for making more effective policy decisions which benefit everyone’s mental health and tackle deep-seated inequalities.”
The report identifies key practical actions which need to be taken to tackle the short and long-term impacts of Covid-19 on mental health, and calls for a greater focus on the causes and consequences of inequalities reinforced by COVID-19, especially in under-served communities.
Launched at an online meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Sport, Moving for Mental Health has been published in collaboration with the Sport for Development Coalition, mental health charity Mind, and academic researchers from Edge Hill University and Loughborough University.
The report draws on evidence and submissions from over 70 organisations including the sport, art and education-based children’s mental health programme, Tackling the Blues, delivered in partnership between Edge Hill University, Everton in the Community and Tate Liverpool.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said: “The Moving for Mental Health report comes at a time when we are at a crossroads for the sport for development sector. While Mind’s research suggests that half of adults and young people have relied on physical activity to cope during the pandemic, we also know that physical activity levels for people with long-term health conditions, including mental health problems, have declined. Considering how vital physical activity is for many people’s mental health, it is clear that we need a collective effort to reach those who need support the most.
“We know that through working collaboratively we can use our resources and expertise to be the difference for thousands of people’s lives. The sport sector, alongside the sport for development sector, has an army of over three million coaches who can help to transform lives through the power of physical activity. Add to that the expertise of the voluntary and community sectors and we are in a strong position to support more people lead healthier and happier lives in settings where they can thrive.”
The report aims to inform Government policy and realise the benefits of community-based physical activity, with a particular focus on low-income, under-served, communities that have been affected disproportionally by the impacts of the pandemic.
Andy Reed, Chair of the Sport for Development Coalition, commented: “The Coalition and its partners are committed to working across Government to level up the societal and health inequalities which have been deepened by Covid-19, and building back fairer. This report is aimed at supporting and informing policy-makers about how we can maximise the contribution of targeted sport and physical activity-based interventions at this crucial time.”
Dr Florence Kinnafick, Senior Lecturer in Exercise Psychology at Loughborough University, added: “Our work proposes how, as a collective across multiple sectors, and via standardised training and professional development, we can better support mental health through movement – and indeed better understand the role of movement for mental health.
“Central to our recommendations is the importance of engaging experts by experience and key community stakeholders in the design, implementation and evaluation of movement for health policy and programming. The aim of this policy brief is to build on the progress in the field of sport, physical activity, sport for development and mental health to address the current mental health and wellbeing emergency exacerbated by Covid-19.”
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