Many studies warn about the effects of distance education and isolation on the mental health of young people. Between stress, anxiety attacks, undernourishment, and a sedentary lifestyle, the student world is very affected by the containment measures taken to fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
Faced with this state of affairs, the teams responsible for physical and sports education in major schools and universities are striving to set up innovative pedagogies to help students better manage their physical life, and encourage them to stay active. , while creating a link.
Physical activity, an essential need
In Canada, the USask (University of Saskatchewan) study highlights the harmful effects of health constraints and repeated confinements on the lifestyle of students. The damage to physical and mental health is significant and proven. The results presented in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, underline the urgency of the situation and the need to use new incentive pedagogies supporting regular physical activity of young people.
In France, the finding is just as alarming. At the end of the first confinement, the CoviPrev study already confirmed a problematic deterioration in the mental health of young people (18-24 years old), with a prevalence of depressive and anxious states.
In the same vein, the Observatory of Student Life has also carried out a survey on the life of a confined student. It shows that the health crisis has had an impact on their living conditions and on their academic career. Signs of psychological distress were generally more numerous in the student body during this period of confinement, as was alcohol consumption or foregoing care. The restrictions linked to the health crisis are affecting the morale of the students and their level of cognitive performance.
To fight against isolation, sedentary lifestyle, physical activity appears to many scientists and researchers as one of the major levers; “The only way to improve immunity” underlines Professor François Carré . The speech of this eminent cardiologist and researcher at Inserm did not go unnoticed. Auditioned by the Senate , he points to the misdeeds of a sedentary lifestyle which continues to strengthen. For him, “physical activity is a national cause”; “Movement is vital for our health! “.
Reinvent the offer
Faced with student discomfort , higher education has deployed psychological support systems, personalized support, and multiple consultations. Regarding physical activity, the main initiatives and innovations are conveyed by physical education and sports teachers in charge of sports services in grandes écoles and universities, in particular under the leadership of the APSCGE group . The French University Sports Federation also offers new challenges to energize students on the competitive dimension.
Three major difficulties arise for these actors. First, the issues of protocol and staff greatly limit the range of possibilities. Then, many difficulties appear because of curfews, sport and physical activity being practiced, usually, for a large part of the students, in the evening, from 6 p.m. How can all these courses be moved to Thursday afternoons without having the necessary infrastructure for their implementation? Finally, the management of students in a context where physical activity is not, in all cases, considered compulsory and endowed with credits, is not simple. Too often, Thursday afternoon is swallowed up by other teachings, considered more serious.
In addition, isolation, depression, stress, undernourishment, phobia, anxiety, living in a roommate or returning to the parents are all parameters to be managed for the higher education teacher. The transformation of habits, the lack of freedom, the new concerns to be managed, in this complicated period, give students multiple reasons to let go. We must therefore constantly fight to limit absenteeism, sporadic investment, and deviations of a new kind.
In this context, getting students back to regular physical activity is a real challenge. The offer has diversified to reach as many people as possible. It has even gone digital, which may seem paradoxical in terms of health benefits. PSE teachers and specialized temporary staff have been trained to produce online courses that can be found in apartments, shared flats and family homes.
Many schools and universities have thus offered students, staff and the general public, physical activity programs, respecting specific loads and intensity ranges . Zoom or Teams-type platforms have been heavily used to ensure synchronous monitoring of students in sports activities, which are prohibited in face-to-face (live muscle strengthening sessions, fitness, yoga, etc.).
Asynchronous courses have also been offered with remote support and online resources have been made available to students so that they can take charge of themselves. Many videos have regularly been posted on closed or open network streaming platforms (Youtube, Stream etc.).
More marginal, applications have been used so that the student can experience physical activity, test his physical condition and plan individually or collectively. These initiatives, these educational innovations have been widely relayed on social networks to facilitate their accessibility and their dissemination in the student world.
But beyond this proposition, it is indeed live sport and connected physical activity that have succeeded. Because, it is indeed the fact of experiencing physical activity live and in a group. which generated the most fun and excitement.
In this regard, the proposals of the Sports Federation of University Sport have paved the way for hybrid practices, both physical and digital, activities that are very attractive to students. After the U’RUN, a connected running race (970,000 kms covered by 13,500 registered students and 450 classified establishments), the U’RIDE on connected bikes, students will even have the opportunity to participate in the U’ROW , a competition of connected rowers.
If these digital proposals are very interesting from a pedagogical point of view, they should not however obscure the essential. Just like the vaccine which gives us a glimpse of the end of the health crisis, it is indeed “real and regular” physical activity, practiced on sports grounds, which will have a positive impact on the student world. Above all, physical activity must be experienced, experienced in order to be felt and have an impact on physical, psychological and social health.
Author Bio: Franck Luccisano is Professor of Physical Education and Sports at SKEMA Business School