Every year, Irish Life Health invites students from all around the country to take part in the Irish Life Health Schools Fitness Challenge. By working together, classes of students aim to increase their fitness level over six weeks, submitting their group ‘bleep test’ results on either end of the challenge.
Judging by findings from 2017, it’s more important than ever for students to stay active. These findings show that 34% of girls and 41% of boys aged 16 don’t meet the minimum level of fitness needed for optimal heart health. Frighteningly, such low levels of fitness can increase the risk of developing chronic diseases, like high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes . “We really can’t ignore the fact that more than a third of 16-year-olds in Ireland are now at risk of developing premature cardiovascular disease”, says DCU’s Prof Niall Moyna, who oversaw the research. “The impact on their long-term health and our healthcare system is undeniable.”
It’s important to remember though that this decline in fitness isn’t inevitable, and improvements can be made in a matter of weeks. Over 30,000 students participated in last year’s Schools Fitness Challenge, with first-year students seeing an average of 8 – 10% improvement in their fitness levels. The biggest improvement in fact was in at-risk, low-fit teenagers, further demonstrating the importance of early intervention for Irish teens.
Olympian Ambassador Thomas Barr has been a supporter of the Challenge since 2016, and encourages all students all over Ireland to keep fit and healthy. “Cardio is amazing for your heart health, wellbeing, keeping your weight at a healthy level, and it even boosts concentration in school”, he says. “It doesn’t take much to see an improvement, so I’d call on all secondary school students around the country to get involved.” PE teachers looking for a fun, healthy challenge for their students, can register their school here.
 “Cardiorespiratory Fitness, Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour and Vascular Health in Male Adolescents” defended by Sinead E. Sheridan, PhD, Bsc, January 2016.