More free time means people are exercising more


THE NUMBER of people engaging in some form of personal exercise has increased sharply since 2009, at least partly because many people have more time as a result of the recession.

The Irish Sports Council, which published the figures yesterday, believes the rise in unemployment and reduced working hours for many people have overcome what was previously the biggest barrier to increased exercise – the lack of free time.

The Irish Sports Monitor 2011 report also suggests there has been a significant decline in what it terms “sedentarism” – more colloquially known as the art of being a couch potato.

The sports council said it defined sedentarism as a level of recreational activity of fewer than 20 minutes a week, undertaken by those who do not cycle or walk regularly as a means of transport. The level of sedentarism declined from 16 per cent of the population in 2009 to 13 per cent last year.

At the same time, the number of people taking regular personal exercise, which is predominantly gym activity, increased from 6 per cent to 11 per cent of the population.

The next most popular forms of exercise were swimming, running, soccer and cycling.

Overall, the numbers of people engaging in sport, whether personal exercise or team games, increased by more than one-third from 34 per cent in 2009 to 46 per cent of the population last year. The report was based on a survey of almost 8,500 adults.

While overall activity was up, the survey found a notable decline in activity among males in the 45-54 age group. This did not occur among females until they reach the over-65 age group, the report noted.

It also found a strong correlation between sports participation and socio-economic status. Those with a monthly household income of less than €2,500 were significantly more likely to be sedentary than those on a monthly income of €5,500 or higher, it said. Higher income earners were also less likely to participate in team sports.

While the overall increased activity was described as a “good news story” by Minister of State for Sport Michael Ring, the report noted that “the most recent survey on lifestyle and nutrition” found that more Irish adults were obese or overweight.

Kieran O’Leary, research director at study author Ipsos MRBI, said the increased physical activity-increased obesity scenario was not necessarily a contradiction.

“We are exercising more, but we might also be eating more,” he said. “Too many lattes, too many cappuccinos.”

Mr Ring said he would use the survey to argue within the Government for more sports funding.

“If we increase funding for sport, we won’t need as many consultants, we won’t need as many doctors, we won’t need as many hospitals,” he said.