As a young woman born and raised in Canada, I have led a very privileged life. I don't have the stress of worrying about my safety, or whether I have access to clean drinking water or a proper education. I feel extremely lucky to have been given the opportunity to thrive and learn. Despite this, there are still issues that negatively impact the girls of my country, especially at critical times in their development, and these are issues I feel extremely passionate about.
Many in Canada overlook the importance of having a well-developed physical education programs in our public schools. There is often the assumption that "gym class" isn't a priority and should be limited to provide more class time for linguistics and mathematics. Although these subjects are extremely important, physical education is just as critical and should not be overlooked.
Research has shown that physical exercise can help to improve one's mental health, and that a balance of class time and exercise is needed to improve both social and academic productivity.
With sedentary lifestyles increasing, the overall physical health of children is decreasing. This not only negatively impacts their bodies, but also affects their mental health and self-confidence. Specifically, young girls in Canada feel pressured to conform to the body norms that media is constantly placing on them, and unfortunately only 4% of Canadian girls are getting the recommended level of physical activity.
The presence of social media is growing in the lives of young girls, and because of this they are constantly bombarded with images of their role models who have unattainable appearances. The media has a huge impact on the thoughts and opinions of young girls, and these images influence and pressures them into believing that they must look a certain way.
This pressure impacts the mental health of young girls by forcing them to internalize their struggles and can cause severe depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. In turn, this psychological distress can distract and disable girls from focusing on their personal well-being.
Having just completed my first year of university, I have seen my female peers struggle with stress and mental health issues. However, I have also witnessed the positive impacts that physical activity can have on a young woman's life. Exercise releases endorphins and other neurotransmitters that make us feel good about ourselves and supports the improvement of an individual's personal and academic life. If we could only teach girls when they are young about the importance of physical activity than they may not go through such mentally stressful experiences later in life.
It is crucial that the governments focus more on resources that improve physical health and educational programs in public schools. One way they can do this is by making physical education classes mandatory throughout all four years of secondary school, and by increasing the number of athletic-based scholarships to encourage young women's continued participation in athletics. Fortunately, there are already some non-government initiatives like FitSpirit that are working to help young girls rekindle their love of sport and improve their self-confidence.
If at an early age young girls know the positive effects that physical activity can have on their mental health and education, they can use this knowledge to improve their present and future life. Let's work together to ensure that young girls are confidently and competently thriving in their schooling and help them become successful contributors to the economy and workforce.
By Alexia Henriques, G(irls)20 Delegate, Canada
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook