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A sound mind and a healthy body - it's all about balance

It was back in 1974, September of that year to be precise, that I was first introduced to the expression "mens sana in corpore sano".

Dr Dave Weldrick, lecturer in PE at the then National College of Physical Education (NCPE), now University of Limerick (UL), was no shrinking violet when it came to bellowing his message in the main lecture theatre at the beautifully appointed Plassey campus.

'A sound mind in a sound body' or 'a healthy mind in a healthy body'. Most inspiring for me was the best of both - 'a sound mind in a healthy body'. It was a message indelibly etched on this young student's mind and has stayed with him ever since. As life messages go, this is as relevant as it gets.

It was and is a call from within for personal perfection. We may not care to admit it openly but it is something to which we all aspire. Unsurprisingly it was my foremost thought when listening to the stark findings surrounding the ticking time-bomb that is obesity in this country.

As a one-time physical educationist, former coach and someone immersed in sport all his life, the tendency is to trust empirical evidence irrespective of it squaring with the scientific equivalent. And yet by and large, it does. Specifically I refer to the dilemma in some parents' minds as to whether sport and academia should mix.

My take from more years involved in school and underage sporting activity than I care to remember, is that it is an absolute no-brainer. Yes, you will have academically strong kids who survive on that alone, but in the main, those who play sport score high.

Almost all participate at primary but many, through parental influence (though not always), drop out of organised sport in the secondary school years. The assumption being that more time sitting with legs underneath a desk produces better grades than the same legs running around a field. Not so.

Those who are active increase the heart rate and flow of oxygen to the brain. Those who play sport get better Leaving Certificate results.

Team sports in particular have a consistent and significant effect on student grades and that's across all sports. Team involvement helps to develop a positive mentoring relationship with adults and also with positive school-oriented peers.

In my experience, they help in being more focussed on school and may also help develop time management skills - that fine balance between training time and study. They also help in developing initiative as well as fostering an ability to work with others.

The physical benefits to be had in this war against obesity reality check need little elaboration from me, but when I listen to Professor Donal O'Shea speak on his subject of expertise I hear the voice of informed moderation. Forgive me for putting words in his mouth but I know I speak for Donal when saying "Mens sana in corpore sano". A healthy and productive life is about balance and that balance begins in the home and in school.

The message is stark. Parents, over to you.

Irish Independent