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Getting active on National Fitness Day in Northern Ireland

This year National Fitness Day falls on Wednesday 27 September and the organisers are encouraging the nation to celebrate the fun of fitness and physical activity across the UK. To mark the Day, this week Get Out Get Active (GOGA) is highlighting some of the fantastic fitness sessions taking place all year-round in different locations.

A fitness session in Northern IrelandIn 2011, énergie Group, the largest and fastest growing fitness franchise company in the UK, founded National Fitness Day. The company then gifted National Fitness Day to ukactive in 2014. The aim is to establish National Fitness Day as the most active day of the year.

We know the benefits of regular exercise includes a healthier heart, increased wellbeing, and a better quality of life. However, many of us find it a struggle. Research shows that if you exercise in company, you are more likely to stick at it. The social atmosphere creates a positive environment that is important in helping us to have fun. This is at the heart of GOGA’s work- fun and inclusion.

Funded by Spirit of 2012, GOGA is an exciting programme that supports disabled and non‑disabled people to take part in fun and inclusive activities together. It aims to make activity more appealing for everyone. Working in 18 different areas across the UK, partners are delivering over 30,000 sessions over three years. One of those locations is Northern Ireland and their team has set up multi-activity sessions. Here, we talk to Ryan McQuillan, working in Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon as the Live Active NI Recreation Officer, about the benefits of regular fitness opportunities that are accessible at a local level.

GOGA Banbridge activity programme

This programme started with funding from GOGA and formed part of the programme run by Live Active NI in the Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon borough council area. The programme originally started as a walking football programme, but after a few weeks, we felt that walking football didn’t suit everyone’s capabilities so we changed it to a multi activity programme.

Each week we focus on a different activity for the group. To date we have tried circuit training, boxercise, chair based exercise and target games.

From meeting with some local community groups it was clear that there was very few group activity opportunities for the older generation in the area. We wanted to create a relaxed and welcoming activity programme. We wanted it to be low impact and one that suited the needs of those with long-term health conditions, those returning to fitness and participants that were that wee bit older.

The sessions take place at the Banbridge Leisure Centre, every Friday from 12 noon- 1pm. For the most part, I lead the session, however we have had other coaches and activity leaders in to deliver. We promote them through social media, community organisations, health trusts, and over 50s clubs.

There are people from different activity backgrounds taking part in the programme. Some of the participants are returning to exercise after illness or have long-term health conditions and there are a few that are interested in become more active.

Women exercising together in Northern IrelandMany of the participants are new to keeping fit or are returning to physical activity. However there are a few members that are quite active. We try and cater for all abilities and make sure that everyone (no matter what ability) is challenged at the club. The majority are over 50, some are into their 70s but we do have one participant who is 16 and attends the programme with his grandparents on the school holidays. We have a number of people who have long-term health conditions.

Recently we have had a number of new members to the club. We have seen a growth of 8 – 18 in the last number of months. This is down to our marketing strategies and word of mouth.

Many of the participants say they have noticed some increase in their capacity to exercise for a bit longer. Some feel more confident to get involved with other activities. They mention that they have enjoyed meeting new people within the programme.

One person mentioned that it was suitable for her abilities and restrictions from her illness. May said, “What I like about this project is that it enables everyone no matter what age and ability to join in and it’s so enjoyable.”

The GOGA programme is giving people the opportunity to take part in physical activity on a weekly basis. We want to ensure that everyone who attends our activities is welcomed and supported- whatever stage they are at on their fitness journey.

On National Fitness Day and beyond, I want the message to be that fitness is for all – no matter what age, level or ability. There’s something for everyone!

Find out how you can get involved in the Get Out Get Active programme here.