The Kelowna Family Y will hold a public information session on March 22 from 4 to 6 p.m. about its new Mind Fit program. - Image: YMCA of Canada

YMCA launches teen program for mental health

Starting April 5, the Kelowna Family Y will host its first run of Mind Fit

By Henry Allan

This spring, the YMCA of the Okanagan is introducing a new youth program fostering the strong ties between mental and physical well-being.

Starting April 5, the Kelowna Family Y will host its first run of Mind Fit: A group exercise program designed for teens suffering from mild-to-moderate depression and anxiety.

Groups of up to 12 teens will meet at the Y’s Rutland location once a week—for a total of 10 weeks—splitting two hour sessions equally between mental health education and physical activity.

Counsellor, J.B. Cole, will run the first half of each meeting, leading group discussions and helping participants set health goals, develop coping strategies, and overcome barriers to regular exercise.

The second hour will be facilitated by the Y’s personal trainers. Teens will get to decide on a new group activity each week, taking advantage of all of the Y’s Rutland facilities, which include basketball courts, pools, an indoor climbing wall, and weights rooms.

“We want to expose them to lots of different activities in the hopes that they like at least one,” said Virginia Wallace, the coordinator of the original Mind Fit program in Vancouver. “They get to try lots of different things…within the YMCA that they might not have had the courage to try before.”

While Mind Fit is intended specifically for those suffering from depression and anxiety, no formal diagnosis is required, and teens can refer themselves. The program is free of charge, and participants will also receive a three-month pass to the Y.

The benefits of physical exercise on mental health are promoted by many health organizations such as the World Health Organization and Canadian Psychological Association (CPA). The CPA states that benefits include lower levels of stress, sadness, and loneliness; improved sleep quality and self-esteem; and boosted academic performance in youths.

“There’s all this research showing that physical activity is really useful and can be a great way to treat mild-to-moderate symptoms of depression,” said Wallace. “But there isn’t actually a whole lot of programs there to support people in doing that.

“If you are feeling depressed or you are experiencing low mood, actually getting out and being physically active is quite a difficult thing. Even if you’re only doing it a few times a week, it can be quite a challenge…a program like this supports people to do that.”

Mind Fit began as a 2015 research study by the Mood Disorders Association of BC and the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility. After seeing positive results with adult participants, the program was pitched to the YMCA of Greater Vancouver who adapted it for teens.

Since it’s public inception, Mind Fit has received further funding from the BC Alliance for Healthy Living, allowing the program to expand to Victoria and Prince George last fall. The Y also has further plans to expand Mind Fit to locations in Kamloops and Surrey this year.

Prior to the program’s launch in the Okanagan, the Kelowna Family Y will hold two public information sessions on March 15 and 22 from 4 to 6 p.m.

For more information or to register for Mind Fit, contact Jan Locke, the Kelowna coordinator of Mind Fit and Y Mind, at 250-317-7980 or at jan@ymcaokanagan.ca.

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