Press release

Every Move Counts - New guidelines aim to encourage people of Ireland to sit less and get more active

New National Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for Ireland are now available.

Published: 12 March 2024

Just 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate exercise spread across the week will improve people’s bone and heart health, cognitive function and mental health for adults.

Today, the HSE and Department of Health launch the new National Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for Ireland, bringing Ireland in line with the World Health Organisations (WHO) recommendations on physical activity. 

Speaking at the launch event, Professor Breda Smyth, Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health explained, “We hope to encourage people of all ages around the country to prioritise their health and wellbeing by increasing their levels of physical activity.  The more time spent being physically active, the greater the health benefits – even relatively small increases in moderate level physical activity can contribute to improved health and quality of life.”

Key updates in the guidelines include

  • physical activity at moderate to vigorous levels can be accumulated across the week,
  • replacing sedentary time with physical activity of any intensity, including light intensity, and
  • an emphasis on including muscle-strengthening activity every week.

For the first time in Ireland there are guidelines for sedentary behaviour and physical activity guidelines for very young children. 

Previous research has found that:

  • only 23% of primary and 12% of post primary students are meeting recommended physical activity guidelines (Children’s Sport Participation and Physical Activity Survey, 2022)
  • most adults in Ireland spend at least 5 hours a day in sedentary activity (Healthy Ireland Survey, 2019)
  • less than half of adults, 46%, in Ireland are meeting the recommended physical activity guidelines (Healthy Ireland Survey, 2019)

Professor Smyth continued, “The benefits of regular physical activity, at moderate to vigorous levels, for our overall health are immense.  It improves our heart health, reduces risk of developing cancer and chronic diseases such as type-2 diabetes, and can improve our mood and sleep.  

“In adults, higher levels of sedentary behaviour are associated with cardiovascular disease, cancer and type-2 diabetes. Sedentary behaviour would include most desk-based work, driving a car, and watching television or other screen time activities. Replacing this sedentary time, where possible, with activity, even light intensity activity – essentially moving more everyday – is also strongly advised to protect health.”  

New recommendations for each age group include:

Infants aged less than a year should:

  • be physically active several times a day in a variety of ways, particularly through interactive floor-based play
  • not be secured for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g., prams/strollers, high chairs, or strapped on a caregiver’s back)

Children aged 1-2 years should:

  • spend at least 3 hours in a variety of physical activities at any intensity, spread throughout the day
  • Not be secured for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g., prams/strollers, high chairs, or strapped on a caregiver’s back) or sit for extended periods of time

Children aged 3 - 4 years should:

  • spend at least 3 hours in a variety of physical activities at any intensity, of which at least 1 hour is moderate-to vigorous-intensity physical activity, spread throughout the day
  • not be secured for more than 1 hour at a time (e.g., prams/strollers) or sit for extended periods of time.

Children and adolescents aged 5-17 years, including those living a disability should:

  • do at least an average of 1 hour per day of moderate-to vigorous-intensity, mostly aerobic, physical activity, across the week,
  • additional activities that strengthen muscle and bones, should be incorporated at least 3 days a week.
  • for some people with certain disabilities (e.g., cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy) a reduced level of physical activity may be adequate to attain significant health benefits, considering their higher energy cost of physical activity.

Adults aged 18-64 years, aged 65+ including those living with a disability:

  • at least 2 hours and 30 minutes to 5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity; or at least 1 hour and 15 minutes to 2 hours and 30 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week
  • additional muscle-strengthening activities at moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups are recommended on 2 or more days a week
  • as part of their weekly physical activity, older adults (aged 65+) and older adults living with a disability should do varied multicomponent physical activity that emphasises functional balance and strength training on 3 or more days a week, to enhance strength and capacity and to prevent falls.

Limiting sedentary activity is also a key recommendation across all age groups.  Screen time is a very common type of sedentary activity, particularly screen time for young children and adolescents. Screen time includes time spent watching screen-based entertainment (TV, computer and mobile devices).

Sarah O’Brien, National Lead, HSE Healthy Eating Active Living Programme, said, “As well as regular planned physical activity such as taking part in sports, going to the gym, walking or cycling for travel and pleasure, we all need to be moving more every day, and cutting back on the amount of time spent sedentary.  But we know how busy life can be for many. Simple ways to start incorporating more activity into day to day life could be walking to work instead of driving, taking the stairs instead of the lift, if catching the bus, get off a few stops early. Reduce the amount of time we spend on screens, whether watching TV, playing games or scrolling through social media on our phones.  Instead of a cinema playdate bring the children and their friends to a local playground to run around and climb safely.

“Regular physical activity provides a range of physical, mental and social health benefits. These include: reducing the risk of disease, managing existing conditions, improving your muscle and bone strength as you age, making it easier to maintain a healthier weight, developing and maintaining your physical and mental wellbeing, and increasing motivation and confidence. We welcome the newly updated guidelines and are hopeful that they will inspire more people to take those important steps towards a healthier future.”

To inform and lead the new guidelines update and development, the HSE Healthy Eating Active Living Programme, on behalf of Department of Health, commissioned a research project last year.

Chair of the research working group, Professor Elaine Murtagh, University of Limerick, said, “The new guidelines for Ireland, bring national recommendations for physical activity in Ireland in line with the best evidence, adapting the WHO guidelines for the Irish context and now include specific guidelines for younger children and on sedentary behaviour.  The updated guidelines are primarily designed to support practitioners in health, social care, education, sport and exercise to understand and promote physical activity.  As well as those working in planning, transport, community and economic development in local authorities.  They also provide clear guidance and messages for people on the amount and types of activity they should be doing regularly to improve their health and wellbeing.”

More information on the new recommendations is available here - follow the conversation online #EveryMoveCounts

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