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The majority of people in Northern Ireland are not exercising enough to meet current health guidelines, according to a research report by the University of Ulster.

But incorporating a brisk walk into our daily routine may be the answer, explained the report’s author Professor Marie Murphy from the Sport & Exercise Sciences Research Institute at the Jordanstown campus.

She said: “Our analysis of Sport Northern Ireland’s recent physical activity survey suggests that, like other regions of the UK, a majority of adults in Northern Ireland are insufficiently active to gain the health benefits associated with physical activity.

“In terms of weight management it appears that walking briskly may be the most effective method of maintaining a healthy body weight. Although time spent cycling, walking and playing sport were all positively associated with a low Body Mass Index, walking had the strongest association with leanness above all other types of physical activity.”

Professor Murphy authored the paper alongside Paul Donnelly from Sport Northern Ireland, Professor Alan Nevill, University of Wolverhampton, Professor Simon Shibli, Sheffield Hallam University and Dr Charlie Foster, University of Oxford.

“Over 68% of the participants report walking for 10 minutes or more each week. The high proportion of adults who already walk underscores the importance of walking as a source of physical activity and reinforces the view that the promotion of walking may represent a viable method for increasing physical activity at a population level,” said Professor Murphy.

“Given that adherence to new physical activity regimes is poor it may be more effective to increase the volume of existing activities than try to encourage the addition of new activities.”

Professor Murphy has recommended public health messages encouraging an increase in walking pace may help a larger proportion of the population to meet current exercise guidelines.

She added: “Encouraging individuals to increase the duration of walking bouts may be a useful way of increasing activity among the most sedentary. In addition, efforts to encourage those who currently walk slowly to increase their walking pace may be an effective way of ensuring more of the population meets current physical activity guidelines.”

The paper, ‘Physical activity, walking and leanness: An Analysis of the Northern Ireland Sport and Physical Activity Survey (SAPAS)’, is published in this month’s issue of the international journal, ‘Preventative Medicine’.

This study is based on secondary analysis of a cross-sectional survey of 4653 Northern Irish adults conducted in 2009/10. This was the first nationwide survey specifically on sport and physical activity, commissioned by Sport Northern Ireland and carried out by an independent market research agency.