Irish people have maintained increased levels of physical activity during the Covid-19 pandemic, despite the stoppage of organised sports, according to a new report.
The Irish Sports Monitor (ISM) report, conducted by Ipsos MRBI on behalf of Sporting Ireland, examined the impact of Covid restrictions on sport and recreational walking and other activities from January to March of this year.
The report found that overall, the number of adults going for recreational walks rose from 65% in 2019 to 76% this year.
However, this year’s figure is down from an all-time high reported from April to May of 2020.
Running, cycling activity, yoga and personal weights training at home also increased when compared to 2019.
In terms of walking for recreation, women (80%) were more likely to do so than men (72%).
Munster saw the largest percentage of people reporting going for walks, compared to other provinces.
Given the restrictions on organised group activities, the number of people participating in sport fell from 47% in 2019 to just 35% this year. The decrease was seen across both genders and all age groups.
In total, 44% of people said they had to give up a sport or physical activity during the pandemic. However, 89% said they wanted to return to their activity of choice once restrictions had lifted.
Seventeen per cent of those surveyed said they had taken up a new sport or physical activity that they did not normally engage in before Covid-19 restrictions came into effect.
Of this cohort, 85% said they expected to continue their new activity once restrictions lifted.
Speaking on Tuesday, Sports Minister Catherine Martin said the increase in people opting to walk recreationally throughout the pandemic was "heartening to see."
"The reduction in sports participation is a concern but I am confident that this will improve as we see the gradual reopening of facilities over the coming months.
"This optimism is reflected in the percentage of respondents who say they will return to the activity they gave up as a result of Covid-19," she said.
Minister of State for Sport and the Gaeltacht, Jack Chambers said Sport Ireland's research highlighted "the resilience of the people of Ireland and their commitment and flexibility to maintaining active lifestyles, even in the face of a global pandemic."
Ms Martin said the Government was committed to doubling the annual investment in sports participation by 2027.
"The vision of creating a country where everyone can regularly enjoy taking part in sport and physical activity for life is one that is shared not only by Sport Ireland and the department but also the many stakeholders and organisations who will support the delivery of the plan over the coming five years," she added.
Sport Ireland’s research findings were published as part of the launch of its Participation Plan 2021-2024.
The organisation has pledged to continue to help people get active by removing barriers to participation in sport and physical activity in the coming years.