'A nation of couch potatoes?' Physical activity, sedentary behaviour and health in Ireland

Researchers at the University of Limerick are working to address the epidemic of sedentary behaviour in Ireland. Effective national level health guidelines and policy must be based on accurate information about how physical activity and sedentary behaviour contribute to health. Professor Alan Donnelly explains: “Low levels of physical activity are attributed to 6-10% of coronary heart disease, type 2  diabetes, breast and colon cancer and over 20% risk of Alzheimer’s disease in Europe.”

In their research, the UL team applied technology to accurately measure levels of physical activity and sedentary behaviour. They have related these finds to health indices and behavioural determinants. Their research highlighted alarmingly high levels of sedentary behaviour among female teenagers in Ireland with 79% of their total day or 19 hours spent lying or siting down. Ciaran Mac Donncha added: “Our research has had a significant impact on national policy. National physical activity guidelines, a dedicated dissemination platform for these guidelines, and a national physical activity plan comprise a sea change for promotion of physical activity in Ireland. UL has made a significant contribution to these achievements”.

Health and wellbeing are human rights which are put at risk by sedentary behaviours and lack of physical activity. UL’s research is helping Ireland and Europe identify the most effective strategies for combatting these ever-increasing threats to health, and to promote health for citizens of all ages. Professor Alan Donnelly, Dr Ciaran Mac Donncha, Dr Kieran Dowd and Dr Fiona Ling are researchers at the Department of Physical Education and Sports Science, University of Limerick. This research has been supported by the Health Research Board, the Irish Heart Foundation and the Health Service Executive.

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