The promotion of physical activity has been a priority for my Department in the context of the implementation of Healthy Ireland, A Framework for Improved Health and Wellbeing 2013 – 2025. This was evidenced by the publication of Get Ireland Active - the National Physical Activity Plan (NPAP) in 2016, and its subsequent implementation.
The NPAP contains 60 actions intended to promote increased physical activity levels across the population. The Plan is being implemented, overseen by a cross-sectoral Implementation Group co-chaired by the Departments of Health and Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media. The Departments of Education, Children, Equality, Disability, Integration & Youth, Housing, Local Government & Heritage, and Rural & Community Development are also represented, along with Sport Ireland, the HSE, the Federation of Irish Sport, the LGMA and the academic sector.
Key initiatives underway include the Active School Flag programme and national strategies for walking and cycling. Increasing physical activity levels in children and young people is a priority focus. Improving physical activity in women and girls has also been identified as an early priority area by the Women’s Health Taskforce. Implementation of the current Physical Activity Plan will be reviewed this year with a view to charting the future direction of the Plan.
While the restrictions imposed in response to Covid 19 have impacted on sports facilities, team sports and other sporting activities, research published by Sport Ireland in mid-2020 shows that individual adult activity levels had risen, with more people participating in walking, cycling, running and outdoor swimming.
As presentations at the recent virtual Irish Physical Activity Research Collaboration conference made clear, regular physical activity can boost positive immune responses while reducing markers of inflammation, and regular exercise is also effective in reducing the severity of symptoms associated with anxiety and depression.
Recent research carried out by DCU regarding the Department of Education’s Active School Flag programme, which is co-sponsored by Healthy Ireland, would indicate positive effects of this programme on school activity levels, but also on attendance, behaviour and learning outcomes.
Bearing in mind the vital role of physical activity in terms of protecting varied aspects of both physical and mental health and wellbeing, the Keep Well national citizen engagement campaign was launched in autumn 2020 as part of the Government’s Resilience and Recovery Plan. This campaign aims to promote resilience and to provide a range of supports for our citizens. The campaign has several themes, one of which is “Keeping Active”. This is in clear recognition of the role of physical activity in supporting positive mental health and improving mood and reducing anxiety, in addition to keeping people fit and healthy and improving their general wellbeing.
Sport Ireland is leading a series of initiatives that are supporting people in keeping active and exercising within their own local areas. In addition, sporting organisations and clubs are developing ways to support local communities within the public health regulations. Details of these supports are available through https://www.gov.ie/en/campaigns/healthy-ireland/ and https://www.sportireland.ie/keepwell.