Last week my friend shared a piece about herself, in The Mirror. She was young and posing in her ballet costume. She had the biggest, beaming smile on her face. But the article explained that she'd given up dancing to study for her school exams. She hasn't danced since.
It reminded me of the common practice of well-meaning parents encouraging their kids to stop dancing or extra-curricular sports because of GCSEs or A-levels.
Whilst I understand the reasoning, it's something I'm grateful my parents didn't do. Yes I scaled things back but there was no question of stopping. I needed the active and creative release.
I can remember using my dance classes as a reward for getting a few good hours of studying in and how, during exam leave, I'd cycle to school with my friends (about six miles away) get to band practice.
The British Heart Foundation released statistics last week which revealed 20 million Brits are risking early death due to inactivity. And with only 1 in 10 girls aged 14 currently meeting the government recommendations for exercise, surely the last thing we need to do, as parents, is to make them stop and study.
What messages are we putting out about sports and activity if we classify them as optional extras, to be dropped as soon as we need to focus on the serious stuff of examinations?
Surely at times of stress we should be helping them manage stress and boost brain function. Activity and creative pursuits do just this.
Does quitting actually help kids to pass exams or improve their grades? At an age when teenagers' brains are wired to seek and get high on pleasure, surely forcing children to give up on the fun and creative stuff is a recipe for a deeply miserable time.
I'm not an education expert. I can't comment on exam technique or revision, other than from my own experiences as a straight A student who continued to dance, perform, sing and play the trumpet between the ages of 14 and 21, when I left Exeter University with a FIRST and an award for choreographing a joyful production of Guys and Dolls in my final year.
I can however comment as a fitness and movement expert who deals with the repercussions of sedentary lifestyles daily.
I see new mums whose bodies would be coping so much better with the strains of pregnancy and birth if they had only moved more and been stronger during the pre baby years. I see middle aged women struggling with the stresses and anxieties of juggling 'all the stuff' who lack a creative or physical outlet to help manage it. I see women post menopause and retirement who are seeing the early signs of reduced bone density and hips that won't move because they have forgotten how.
There is such a focus on exams, academic attainment, tests and achieving that we've somehow forgotten the importance of life. Is it any wonder that we can't squeeze in an hour for a run or have to manage on super speedy workouts because we don't have the time for the thing that makes us happy and healthy? Because we've learned that sport is a nice, optional extra.
Even my son, at six, often has his school P.E. time squeezed to just one hour per week because of the demands of school life and the curriculum.
I'm not just talking ideal world stuff here. I'm talking longevity and remaining fit enough to be active throughout our non work years (if there will be such a thing when it's my turn). I'm talking scientifically proven FACTS that sitting down for long periods of time is worse for us than smoking!
This phrase, coined by the director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative, Dr James Levine is backed up by studies:
- According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute linked increased time spent sitting down with colon, endometrial and lung cancer.
- A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that people who sat for more than six hours per day died sooner than their counterparts who sat for less than three hours per day.
Sitting down has also been linked with breast cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Sport and activity need to be AS important as exams. An exercise habit could keep you alive for your grandchildren. An A-level won't.
Movement and impact on joints (along with nutrition) as a child, set up good bone density for life. Sitting down for long periods of time is like taking a top of the range sports car and leaving it in a damp garage for years with no servicing.
Activity can help manage stress and anxiety. We know that exercising outside, in green spaces, actually changes the brain. It stops us brooding and improves our mood.
Initiatives like 'mile a day' in schools are already reaping rewards, with teachers noticing that students are better able to cope with complex tasks after activity than before or without.
Yes, exams and studying are important for success, but what use is a glittering academic record, a top dollar partnership role and a des res if you are a) miserable or b) dead?
Quitting all fun stuff doesn't encourage discipline. If anything, I'd argue we need to show our children how their dance or exercise can help with their exam revision. It can help manage stress and re-focus their brain.
In fact some studies have shown that some exercise can actually help with laying down information in the brain and subsequent recall.
So please. This exam season. Don't hang up your leotard. Aside from potentially saving your sanity and your life it could also boost your grades!