Let's get Physical

We often hear that academia can move people and the work of Stephen Behan of DCU’s School of Health and Human Performance is doing just that - quite literally.

Behan’s research is focused on building physical literacy in primary school kids so that they can be more confident about physical activity. “It’s about kids getting to learn and use the basic building blocks of physical activity - things like running and jumping, kicking and throwing,” he said. “That builds their skills and importantly, it builds their confidence in being physically active. “Think about it – if they are playing football in class but they haven’t the skills to run and kick, they may be put off taking part, and this can turn into a negative spiral of not wanting to try other sports.”

With a lifelong involvement in GAA, Behan was able to observe first-hand the effect that exercise can have on young people and made this the focus of his Master’s. He visited primary schools to host 15-minute exercise sessions for students before class, with results that proved something of a godsend to their teachers. “Compared to the children who didn’t do the exercises in the intervention, the ones who did jumped 25% in terms of their fundamental movement skills, and the teachers reported that those students were much less giddy in class,” he added. “They could immediately start on lessons rather than needing time to settle down.”

These days, Behan is working with colleagues from DCU’s School of Health and Human Performance to collect and analyse information about aspects of physical activity in over 2,000 kids aged 5-12 as part of the ‘Moving Well - Being Well’ project. And while 18 weeks on the road-testing movement skills proved something of a challenge, Behan said that the impact it has had was worth it. He said: “I can see some of the kids who have taken part in the intervention getting involved in Na Fianna, where I am Vice-Chair of the club and I mentor teams. To see those young children engaging with the GAA and continuing to build those movement skills is really rewarding.”

To find out more about the Faculty of Science and Health’s School of Health and Human Performance, go to www.dcu.ie/shhp