Engaging with sport


Next week will bring the New Year and many people’s minds will turn to new possibilities. Hopefully, last week’s publication of a major report commissioned by the Irish Sports Council will still be echoing after the Christmas festivities and will encourage more people to think again about the well-proven benefits of taking exercise.

At the level of personal health, regular moderate exercise prevents the development of cardiovascular disease, cancer, depression and dementia. And for those with chronic illness, regular exercise can have both a treatment and secondary preventive role. In addition, structured participation in sport offers a broad range of societal benefits.

The publication of the largest study of participation in sport and exercise ever conducted in Ireland provides valuable information to help inform policy. Keeping Them in the Game provides evidence from three large, nationally representative surveys covering all age-groups from primary school children to older adults.

In order to improve participation levels, either more children and young adults must become involved in sport or the level of dropout from regular exercise among adults must be reversed.

This latest research suggests remedial action be focused on post primary schoolchildren and adults. It found that second level students participate less in exam years and this has a lasting effect on whether they are active later in life.

The research also found adult activity is linked with life events; issues such as work commitments and family responsibilities force sporting activity down many adults list of priorities. And a marked deprivation factor emerged with those in lower socio-economic groups less likely to re-engage with sports as adults.

The report makes a number of policy recommendations, including a refocusing of public money towards formal participation programmes with less spent on sports facilities.These programmes should be designed to exploit social networks as well as tackling time constraints.

The Irish Sports Council along with the Ministers for Health, Sport and Children must now come together to ensure these valuable scientifically backed recommendations are implemented.

In the meantime, as a much more modest personal initiative, people might consider participating over the coming days in the Goal mile, an event which has become part of the Irish Christmas over more than three decades. There are runs in more than 100 locations in Ireland and the event has spread abroad as far as Melbourne.

A s well as enjoying the camaraderie and contributing to a very good cause, the benefits of exercise are thrown in too.

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