The Public Health Agency (PHA) has encouraged people to increase their daily step count to boost physical and mental health. With two-thirds of adults in Northern Ireland being obese or overweight, the PHA has stressed that small changes can make a significant difference in improving health outcomes.
Dr Hannah McCourt, a senior health and social well-being improvement officer with the PHA, said that people can incorporate simple moves like walking, gardening, and getting outside with children into their daily lives. According to BBC News NI, the average number of daily steps in Northern Ireland ranges between 3,000-4,000. Dr McCourt added that walking is free and can be incorporated into leisure time and daily routines.
Obesity Epidemic in Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland, a quarter of children and two-thirds of adults are either overweight or obese. By 2030, it is estimated that an additional 11 million adults across the UK will be obese, resulting in further pressure on the healthcare system.
Walking: A Form of Exercise Often Overlooked
The National Health Service (NHS) suggests that walking briskly can help build stamina, burn excess calories, and improve heart health. Despite its benefits, walking is often overlooked as a form of exercise. With an additional 30 minutes of walking a day, individuals can burn up to 1,000 extra calories per week. Gradually increasing the number of steps taken daily can yield significant health benefits.
Walking Football: A Fun Way to Stay Active
Tackling physical and mental health conditions is something the Hillsborough Ages, a local walking football group, has taken on board. The club, which has 32 members, meets twice a week to play walking five-a-side football. Players are not allowed to run, head the ball or play it at head height. The aim is to keep people aged over 50 involved with football if they are no longer able to play the traditional form of the game.
Bobby Jackson, the founder of the team, said that every player has a physical or mental health issue. Some members can no longer run due to knee and hip problems, while others have depression. The club provides an opportunity for people to get out of the house, stay active, and engage in banter while playing football. Team member Barry Hook, who is terminally ill with a brain tumour, said he feels safe enough to play in a team sport as the ball is kept below head height.
Diet and Physical Activity
While increasing physical activity is important, it is equally essential to watch one’s calorie intake. In its 2021 obesity prevention campaign, the PHA advised anyone who is overweight to reduce their portion sizes. A brisk walk can reduce anxiety, help manage weight, lower blood pressure, and improve sleep quality. Simple tips such as getting off the bus a few stops earlier or parking the car a little further away can help increase steps.
Taking small steps towards a more active lifestyle can have significant health benefits. Walking, gardening, and playing sports like walking football are excellent ways to increase physical activity. Increasing steps taken daily can help burn excess calories, improve heart health, and reduce anxiety. While watching one’s calorie intake is essential, small changes in daily routines can make a big difference in improving overall physical and mental health.