Ireland Staying Active During COVID-19 Restrictions – Sport Ireland Research

30 Apr 2020
Caroline O'Mahony
  • Additional 500,000 regular walkers; 450,000 runners; 220,000 cyclists
  • Percentage of inactive adults drops 8% from same period in 2019
  • Active adults report significantly higher levels of self-rated physical health compared to inactive adults.

Irish people are partaking in more individual sport and recreational walking during the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions. That was the key finding of research published today by Sport Ireland, which shows a surge in numbers walking, cycling and running since the restrictions were put in place in March.

The research, conducted by Ipsos MRBI on behalf of Sport Ireland, reveals that Irish adults have adapted remarkably well in keeping up their sport and recreational walking habits during this difficult period. More adults are now active than previously despite the restrictions and the increase in recreational walking in particular has been profound.

The survey was undertaken in three waves: 28 February-9 March, 16-31 March; and 1-13 April. The “Delay” phase of Ireland’s response to Covid-19 commenced on 12 March (school closures, limited outdoor gatherings, work from home if possible, etc) while the “Stay at Home” enhanced restrictions phase commenced on 27 March. 1,009 respondents took part in Waves 1 and 3, and 1,003 took part in Wave 2.

By Wave 3, 78% of Irish adults were reporting that they were walking for recreation at least once per week. This is roughly equivalent to an additional 500,000 regular recreational walkers compared to the numbers of reported walkers during March and April of 2019.

There were also large increases in the numbers of runners and cyclists compared to the same period last year. The research shows that this approximately equates to an additional 450,000 regular runners and 220,000 regular cyclists.

During these uncertain and unprecedented times, it is highly encouraging that Irish adults are seeking to look after their own health and well-being.

Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Brendan Griffin TD

The research found that the gender gap in participation in sport at present is virtually non-existent; however, the social gradients in sport are still as strong as ever.

Minister of State for Tourism and Sport, Brendan Griffin TD, welcomed the publication: “The findings of the research commissioned by Sport Ireland are extremely positive. During these uncertain and unprecedented times, it is highly encouraging that Irish adults are seeking to look after their own health and well-being. It is important that people continue to do this by taking part in regular sport and physical activity, while observing the necessary physical distancing and 2km radius restrictions. 

“The decline in the number of inactive people is also welcome and in line with measures outlined in the National Sports Policy. I commend the great work being done by the National Governing Bodies for Sport and the Sport Ireland Local Sports Partnership Network in providing opportunities and guidance on staying physically active. These organisations will continue to have a big role to play in keeping Ireland physically active and participating in sport once the current restrictions are eased.”

As a result of this increased activity, the proportion of inactive adults was down to 14% by wave 3, compared to 19% in wave 1 and 22% in March / April 2019.

Chief Executive of Sport Ireland, John Treacy, commented: “Like all areas of society, the current sporting landscape bears no resemblance to what we had envisaged at the beginning of the year. While our playing fields, stadia and training facilities lay idle for moment, what is encouraging is that evidence suggests that people are substituting their usual sporting activity with regular recreational walking and other individual activities. Increases in walking, running and cycling mean that overall levels of sports participation is similar to what they were during the same period in 2019. The sports sector has reacted quickly to the ongoing situation, with innovative programmes and initiatives being developed to help people stay active safely.”

Those who are active are more likely to report significantly better physical health than the inactive, evidencing the important role sport and physical activity plays in the promotion of the health of the nation.

Kieran O’Leary, Director of Ipsos MRBI who carried out the research, added: “What is interesting about the research is that it demonstrates the adaptability of the nation in dealing with the introduction on significant restrictions and disruption to everyday life. We saw a decline in the numbers of people partaking in sport and physical activity between wave 1 and wave 2 of the research, before significantly rebounding in wave 3. This suggests that people looked to replace their regular activities, which have been impacted by the restrictions, with alternative activities. The research shows that sport and physical activity remains a key component in people’s lives, despite the challenges the ongoing situation presents.”

Ipsos MRBI Research