Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly, and Dublin GAA star Bryan Cullen recently announced the winners of Aviva Health’s Schools Fitness Challenge 2013. Ireland’s Fittest School is Oaklands Community College, Edenderry, Co. Offaly. The Fittest School and Most Improved School, Abbey C.B.S, Tipperary, attended a special awards ceremony at Aviva Stadium.
The national challenge, developed by Professor Niall Moyna in Dublin City University and the Wellness Economic Initiative Alliance, invited all secondary schools throughout the country to join in making physical fitness a national priority, by assessing the fitness levels of 1st and 2nd year school children over a six week period and advocating for improvements in their overall health.
A total of 8,047 1st and 2nd year students (4,390 boys and 3,657 girls), and 219 schools from 24 counties across Ireland successfully completed Aviva Health’s Schools Fitness Challenge. The results show large improvements in fitness were observed among the students after a relatively short period of exercise intervention – as little as six weeks.
Oaklands Community College completed an average of 89 shuttle runs to be named the Ireland’s Fittest School while Abbey C.B.S, Tipperary, were named as the Most Improved School, completing an average of 51 shuttle runs pre-training and 82 shuttle runs post-training, representing a significant 60% increase in fitness levels over the six week period.
Róisín O’Connell, PE teacher at Oaklands Community College said, “We are thrilled to be the first school awarded the title of Ireland’s Fittest School. The students worked incredibly hard to reach their fitness goals, and they achieved this by doing 20 minutes of aerobic activity at the start of every PE class, partaking in extra physical exercise during their mid-term break and going for walks and runs together along the canal. Our hope is that all the students maintain their levels of physical activity, and push themselves to be regularly active right through to adulthood.”
Irish boys were found to be 60% fitter than girls. Post-training, boys completed an average of 62 shuttle runs compared with the girls who completed a low average of 38 shuttle runs, which Prof Moyna says is not surprising given boys tend to be more involved in organised team sports or clubs in the community.
Recent studies show that 25% of school-going children have risk factors for heart disease[vi] while 86% of spend more than two hours daily, sitting viewing TV, videos or playing on the computer.
According to Prof Moyna from the Centre of Preventative Medicine, DCU “Aviva Health’s Schools Fitness Challenge highlights the importance of cardiovascular fitness from an early age, and demonstrates that as little as six weeks of exercise training can lead to significant improvements in fitness among young girls and boys.”
Alison Burns, CEO, Aviva Health Insurance also speaking at the launch said, “Aviva Health Insurance paid over €7.5million last year in claims for treatments where obesity is a key risk factor. As a health insurer, it is very important to us to encourage our customers to take a pro-active approach to their health to manage the cost of obesity related claims. We were delighted with the level of participation in the Aviva Health Schools Fitness Challenge, which really highlights the importance of tracking the fitness levels of our youth to improve the health of children in Ireland. We congratulate the winning schools and encourage other schools to join us in next year’s challenge.”
Speaking at the launch the Minister for Health said, “This initiate comes at a most opportune time. This government recently published Healthy Ireland, a government framework to improve the health and wellbeing of people living in Ireland over the coming generation. Healthy Ireland has 64 actions that require a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach to improve health and wellbeing and reduce the health risks posed to future generations. Healthy Ireland will bring further impetus to the existing programmes and strategies in place right across the education sector to improve the health of our young people, their teachers and families.
The Minister added: “We know that just as it is important to get our economy back in the best possible shape, through Healthy Ireland we’re working to get our people into the best shape too – physically, emotionally and psychologically.”
Prof Moyna continued, “In my view, fitness levels of children should be assessed at the beginning and end of each school year, and given the same priority as academic subjects like Maths and Science. Children should be educated about why it’s important to be fit from a fitness perspective, but also what physical activity actually does physiologically to their heart and lungs, so there’s a clear understanding of how the body responds to exercise.”
Ciaran Faughnan, CEO of the Wellness Economic Initiative Alliance stated, “The Alliance recognises the importance for students to maintain their fitness levels and is working in collaboration with industry partners to develop solutions that will incentivise long term healthy behaviour.”
The Aviva Health Schools Fitness Challenge regional scoreboard names Kerry as the fittest county overall after the six week challenge, followed closely by Tipperary, Monaghan, Mayo and Meath. 11 schools from Kerry participated in the challenge, representing more than 400 students.
Bryan Cullen, Dublin GAA star and sub-academy fitness coach at Leinster Rugby, said “Sport has always been a passion of mine, and I would encourage young people to play an active role in improving their health by joining a sports club or team activity at a community level.”
The challenge was monitored by Dr. Sarah Kelly and challenge creator, exercise physiologist, Prof. Niall Moyna from the Centre for Preventive Medicine in DCU.
For further information on Aviva Health’s Schools’ Fitness Challenge 2013 go to www.avivahealth.ie/fitnesschallenge