Irish people over 50 are now more likely to be active than inactive, according to a new survey from Age & Opportunity's Go for Life and Sport Ireland. The research, launched today by Minister Michael Ring TD, Minister of State at the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport with Special Responsibility for Tourism and Sport, shows that there are 53% of older adults who can be classed as 'active' instead of 'low or not active'. Just over half of those are getting half-an-hour of physical activity five days a week, so they are reaching the national guidelines for adults.

Age & Opportunity and Sport Ireland have been tracking the behaviours and attitudes of older people since 2006 and this has been the first time that active older people are in the majority, though the research has been seeing activity levels slowly rising over that time from 39% to 53%.

"The research is great news," says Go for Life manager Mary Harkin, speaking at the launch, "It shows the kind of impact that programmes like Go for Life are having on the lives and health of older people across the country. While the work of Go for Life continues community-by-community with our Physical Activity Leaders providing peer support to get people active, it feels like we've reached a bit of a milestone by becoming the majority”.

Go For Life

The majority of people are becoming healthier and more active simply by increasing their walking speed and making time for a regular walk each day. Apart from walking, the most popular activities are swimming and golf among those over 50. One area that is seeing a notable rise is the popularity of cycling among older people. Since 2011, the numbers on their bikes have risen from 4% to 7%, having passed out activities like dancing and weight training. While this may be due to increases and improvements in cycle routes, to the popularity of cycling among the general population or to other factors, it is expected that there will be an increased number of older people getting up on their bikes.

“At the same time, we can't be complacent” warns Harkin “the research is clear that there are still a lot of people who feel completely excluded from sport and physical activity and that, through the Small Grant Scheme and through our other work, we are trying to empower people in their own communities to get more active and to open the door for other people to take part. What we have seen over the years is that many people want to take part but have been put off by misconceptions about sport. Go for Life shows them that it can be fun and that there's usually tea and a biscuit at the end of it.”

John Treacy, Chief Executive of Sport Ireland added:

“From the perspective of public health it is great to see the numbers of older people meeting the National Physical Activity Guidelines. These changes are in no small part a testimony to the work of the many sporting organisations including the Local Sports Partnership who continue to direct and focus their efforts towards inactive groups. The challenge now is to maintain the good work and keep Ireland active”.

The research, carried out by Perceptive Insight as a survey of 1,000 Irish people over 50, also found that there were inequalities present within the numbers participating. Those aged 50 to 64 were more inclined to be active than those aged 65 and over and that people from more affluent socio-economic backgrounds were more likely to be active than their less well-off neighbours. On a positive note, older women are beginning to catch up with men on participation in sport.

The research was launched along with the announcement of the Go for Life Small Grant Scheme from Age & Opportunity and Sport Ireland which was awarding over 1,000 small grants to groups and clubs across the country who are encouraging physical activity among older people. These grants are estimated to reach over 30,000 older people each year and have, over 15 years, invested €5million in getting older people more active within their communities. For details on the grants programme and a full list of the successful applications click here

Minister Ring speaking at the launch of the research today in the Alexander Hotel, Dublin, stated:  “One of my priorities is to increase participation in sport and physical activity, across all ages and groups.  I am very aware of the importance of sport and physical activity in the lives of all Irish people, both socially and from a health perspective. Go for Life is doing a wonderful job of providing greater opportunities for older people to enjoy all the benefits that participation can bring.”

For more information on Age & Opportunity, visit or find the organisation on Facebook or Twitter (@Age_Opp)  

About Age and Opportunity:

  • Age & Opportunity is the national organisation that works to inspire and to create opportunities so that Irish people can live healthy and fulfilling lives as they age.
  • They do this by working with other national and local bodies to provide access to a wide range of activities, events and training opportunities in:
  • Age & Opportunity aims to contribute to changes in attitudes and practices in relation to ageing and older people in Ireland such that as people age they can develop their full potential on three levels – the personal, the societal and the civic - to the extent that each individual chooses.
  • This is informed by international public policy initiatives as well as research showing that participating in society is good for individual health and well-being, and good for communities through the building of social capital.
  • Fundamentally it is also informed by the conviction that full citizenship is the right of everyone no matter what their age or background.

About Sport Ireland

Sport Ireland brings together the Irish Sports Council, National Sports Campus Development Authority, Irish Institute of Sport and Coaching Ireland to form a new, streamlined and dynamic body to drive the future of Irish sport.

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