Westmeath secondary schools called to enter Schools Fitness Challenge

The Schools Fitness Challenge 2013 has been launched for first and second year pupils in Westmeath to improve their health and fitness.

Recent research shows that 25 per cent of school-going children in Ireland have risk factors for heart disease, such as poor aerobic fitness levels, being overweight or obese, and having high blood pressure.

Exercise physiologist and advocate of the Schools Fitness Challenge 2013, Dr Sarah Kelly, believes children are worringly inactive, “The majority (86 per cent ) of school-going children spend more than two hours daily, sitting viewing TV, videos, or playing on the computer. This means almost nine out of 10 Irish children are insufficiently active to benefit their current or future health,” she said.

Aviva Health’s Schools Fitness Challenge 2013 is an initiative developed by Dublin City University in conjunction with the Wellness Economic Initiative Alliance. It is a unique initiative that aims to make physical fitness among school-going children a national priority by creating awareness about the issue.

Dr Kelly said, “The fact that there is a significant period of time between the development of cardiovascular disease in childhood and the occurrence of clinical events such as heart attacks and strokes in adulthood, emphasises the importance of implementing appropriate lifestyle strategies at an early age.”

Secondary schools interested in participating in the national challenge are being encouraged to register online at www.avivahealth.ie/fitnesschallenge by Friday January 18 to receive a registration pack with the fitness test audio on CD, and step-by-step guidelines of how to complete the programme successfully.

Dr Kelly believes that exercise is medicine, saying “In addition to the enormous physical benefits we get from exercise, it can have a positive effect on mental health and academic performance, reduce rule-breaking behaviour, improve attention span and classroom behaviour, and can play a significant role in the enrichment of a child’s social life and development of social interaction skills.”

“Team sports are a great way to build up your fitness, but to be physically active doesn’t necessarily mean you have to play a team sport. Walking, skateboarding, dancing, swimming, and even playing your Nintendo Wii are all great ways of keeping active and getting fit.”

As part of the Schools Fitness Challenge, Aviva is working with relevant bodies, such as the Wellness Economic Initiative Alliance and the Centre for Preventive Medicine, Dublin City University to promote physical activity and fitness in school-going children.

The challenge will be monitored by Dr Sarah Kelly and challenge creator, exercise physiologist, Prof Niall Moyna from the Centre for Preventive Medicine in DCU.

Alison Burns, managing director at Aviva Health Insurance said, “We are incredibly proud to support Aviva Health’s Schools’ Fitness Challenge, which we hope will contribute to our long-term strategy of improving the health of our children in Ireland and future generations.”

Aviva Health’s Schools’ Fitness Challenge 2013 is calling on all secondary schools, parents, and teachers across the country today to register their interest in the national fitness challenge online at www.avivahealth.ie/fitnesschallenge by the closing date, Friday January 18.

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