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Physical Activity in Ireland

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Physical Activity in IrelandWIT

Silent pandemic of physical inactivity is focus of new research from WIT and Sport Ireland


  • Ireland taking the right steps towards physical activity, according to global research
  • 4% of all deaths in Ireland could be avoided if moderate physical activity was increased
  • Exercise before vaccination can boost immune response

Ireland punches above its weight on physical activity promotion but we still have some way to go in getting Ireland active is one of the key findings from new global research which highlights the “silent pandemic of physical inactivity”.

A set of ‘Country Cards’ profiling physical activity in 217 countries has been launched by the Global Observatory for Physical Activity (GoPA!) based on data up to 2019. The GoPA! Country card for Ireland can be found here


The organisation’s main goal is to reduce the global burden of mortality and morbidity caused by physical inactivity and it consists of physical activity researchers, epidemiologists, public health policy makers and practitioners that catalogue and analyse global data on physical activity and health.

The research has even more resonance since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Ireland’s representatives on the GoPA network Dr Niamh Murphy a senior lecturer in public health and health promotion from Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), and Dr Elizabeth Loughren, Research and Innovation Unit, Sport Ireland.

Dr Niamh Murphy, Senior lecturer in Public Health and Health Promotion from WIT said “Physical activity has often been the poor relation when it comes to resources and funding, even though its contribution to both preventing disease and enhancing wellbeing is well established. If we could get everyone in Ireland accumulating 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week we could avoid 8.4% of all deaths. The country card shows that 54% of males in Ireland meet this physical activity guideline. Only 38% of women meet the guidelines. There is a lot of scope here to increase physical activity levels,” she adds.

Dr Loughren from Sport Ireland said “With COVID-19, the value of physical activity for the health of the nation has never been clearer. There is some encouraging news from Sport Ireland research at three time points during COVID-19 restrictions which found that in April 2020 Irish adults were reporting that they were walking for recreation at least once per week. However there is still a socioeconomic divide with many people not yet active.”

Dr Murphy also highlighted work presented by Dr Seb Chastin of Glasgow Caledonia University at the Irish Physical Activity Research Collaboration (I-PARC) conference in January 2021 showing that exercise boosts immune function and can enhance the response to vaccination. Irish scientists working on TILDA, the National longitudinal study of ageing, have shown those who were active had improved immune responses to the flu vaccine and have now recommended regular aerobic or moderate exercise in the weeks and months prior to Covid-19 vaccination to help improve antibody responses post vaccination in older people.

“Any activity is better than none,” Dr Murphy said. “More activity is better, with national guidelines recommending 150 minutes a week, or 30 mins/day of moderate intensity activity. Walking is ideal, or anything that you enjoy.”

GoPA! provides surveillance of physical activity systems, which in turn helps enable physical activity. It reports on the prevalence of physical activity and on the robustness of a country’s surveillance systems’ for physical activity. It also reports on physical activity policy.

While Ireland is an exemplar it is amongst the 37.7% of countries worldwide that have a standalone physical activity policy, the National Physical Activity Plan (NPAP) is now at the end of its term .

“The challenge now is to maintain the momentum which the NPAP has started, to work together towards getting more people more active more often and to monitor that progress,” says Dr Murphy.

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