Healthy20Ireland20Logo2020141The Government has launched Ireland's first ever National Physical Activity Plan which aims to get at least half a million more Irish people taking regular exercise within ten years.

The plan was launched in Ballybough Community, Youth & Fitness Centre in Dublin by Minister for Health Leo Varadkar, Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport Paschal Donohoe, Minister of State for Mental Health, Primary Care and Social Care (Disabilities and Older People) Kathleen Lynch, and Minister of State for Tourism & Sport Michael Ring.

The key target is to increase the number of people taking regular exercise by 1% a year over ten years - that's around 50,000 people every year or half a million in total - by making exercise a normal part of everyday life and giving people more opportunities to be active.

National Physical Activity Plan

Ministers said the emphasis is on fun and enjoyment but the goal couldn't be more serious, as seven out of ten adults don't get enough exercise. At least €5.5 million in funding across the three Departments has been ring-fenced to implement the Plan in 2016, comprising sports measures, Healthy Ireland initiatives, Sport Ireland programme funding, and education projects.

Key features include:

Increase the number of people taking regular exercise by 50,000 every year for the next ten years;

A new annual campaign to encourage more people to get active more often, including social media campaigns and a new Physical Activity Week as part of the European Week of Sport;

  • Support 500 new community walking groups, and extend the Active School Flag Programme to another 500 schools;
  • Health professionals will get further training on using physical activity to prevent or treat chronic conditions;
  • Build on the success of Get Ireland Walking by setting up new initiatives like Get Ireland Swimming, Get Ireland Cycling and Get Ireland Running;
  • The website will be expanded as a one-stop-shop for physical activity, including a public database of national sports and recreation facilities;
  • There will be a new push to get employers to encourage Healthy Workplace initiatives through walking and exercise activities, standing desks and other measures;
  • More physical activity will be provided for people with physical or mental disabilities through guidelines and support materials;
  • New guidelines will be developed on sedentary behaviour, including warnings about the dangers of lengthy inactivity;
  • The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment will finalise a new PE curriculum framework at Senior Cycle level;
  • A new school subject called 'Wellbeing' will be launched next September as part of the new Junior Cycle to include Physical Education;
  • Healthy lifestyles will be promoted in primary and secondary schools. Physical activity will be used as an educational tool, especially at primary level, and a Professional Development Support Service on physical activity will be set up for teachers.

Minister Varadkar said: "In Health, the focus is generally on the day to day problems we face but we will never get on top of these or get budgets under control in the long-term if we don't improve our health as individuals and as a nation. Being healthy starts with personal responsibility, but the Government also has a role to play. That's where Healthy Ireland comes in: the cross-Government, cross-sector programme to improve our health. We are already taking actions in a number of areas such as smoking, alcohol, sexual health and sunbed use. Now this National Physical Activity Plan sets an ambitious target to get half a million people more active within ten years. I'm very confident we can reach this goal.

"This Plan is also a great example of joined-up Government involving the Departments of Health, Transport, Tourism & Sport, and Education & Skills. Too often, Government Departments and agencies work in silos but on this issue we are committing today to working together."

Minister Donohoe welcomed the publication of the Plan saying: "Getting the whole country more physically active requires all of us to work together at national and local level and the National Physical Activity Plan is a great example of cross-sectoral cooperation and partnership. The National Physical Activity Plan is about ensuring that we can all take simple steps to increase our physical activity levels, particularly those who do not take part in any form of physical activity. The Plan aims to increase participation levels across all of the population but we recognise that specific targeted initiatives may be required to increase participation levels and to narrow the gap across some groups. Funding of almost €4 million will be provided for sports measures in 2016 to deliver actions in the National Physical Activity Plan. I will be allocating almost €1 million of Sport Ireland's programme funding for the employment of multi-sport development officers to support the delivery of programmes at local level. It is envisaged that almost €3 million of funding for sports programmes for disadvantaged communities will also be allocated from Dormant Accounts Funding which is overseen by my colleague Minister Alan Kelly."

Although many people in Ireland take regular exercise, a significant proportion of the population exercise very little or not at all. The evidence is stark:

  • Only 19% of primary and 12% of post-primary school children meet the physical activity recommendations with girls less likely than boys to meet the recommendations and the likelihood of meeting the recommendations decreasing with increasing age;
  • 10% of active sports participants at primary school have dropped out of sport by the first year of post-primary;
  • One in four children are unfit, overweight or obese and have elevated blood pressure;
  • Only 32% of adults are meeting the national physical activity recommendations.

Minister Lynch said: "As well as helping your physical health, being active is hugely important for your mental health. Being active improves mood, helps reduce stress and boosts energy levels. It can be a very good way to meet people and get more involved in your community." Minister Lynch encouraged everybody regardless of age or ability, to find an activity that they enjoy. She said: "It could be football or swimming or any activity. It doesn't have to be sport. Even a half hour walk most days can make all the difference to your wellbeing."

Minister Ring said: "The focus of the funding for sport in 2016 for the National Physical Activity Plan will be on disadvantaged communities. Sport Ireland will continue to support the Community Sport Hubs, which were piloted last year through the Local Sports Partnerships under Dormant Accounts Funding. In recent years there has been an increase in the popularity of activities like walking, running, cycling and swimming. Funding will be allocated in 2016 through Sport Ireland and the National Governing Bodies of sport for the further development of the Get Ireland Walking programme and the development of new Get Ireland Cycling, Running and Swimming programmes. Investment will also be made in programmes to address the high drop-out rates from sport among specific groups."

No single organisation working on its own can get the country more active. But if everyone works together including communities, businesses, sports clubs, the Government, State agencies and individuals, we all become part of the solution. That's why the Plan was developed by a wide range of stakeholders. Other actions include:

  • Questions on activity levels will be included in risk factor screening in the health service;
  • Based on the positive experience of smoking cessation interventions, a new programme will be developed for health professionals on the health benefits of physical activity along with a Physical Activity Brief Intervention programme;
  • Support new participation programmes with a special focus on disadvantaged communities;
  • Physical activity will be incorporated into long term care planning and practice in the health and social services;
  • Develop a new programme of ongoing professional development in physical education, including for early learning professionals;
  • Draft new guidelines on promoting physical activity in early childhood;
  • Develop walking and cycling strategies in each local area and incorporate exercise, cycle routes and parks into town planning;
  • Develop a Healthy Workplace toolkit for employers on promoting physical activity at work;
  • Develop a research programme on what works best in promoting physical activity;
  • Explore new public and private funding opportunities for sporting and activity organisations.

An implementation group will now be set up led jointly by the Departments of Health and Transport, Tourism & Sport. The entire plan will be assessed against its targets after three years.

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