Thursday 27 October 2016

Get up off the couch and sample what nature has given us

Initiatives like the Wild Atlantic Way and the Greenway are making it easier than ever to go for a run, walk or cycle in our beautiful countryside. So what are you waiting for asks our fitness expert

Karl Henry

Published 08/06/2016 | 02:30

Wild, wild ways: Karl Henry says get out there and enjoy the countryside.
Wild, wild ways: Karl Henry says get out there and enjoy the countryside.

Blueway, Greenway, Wild Atlantic Way - high five, Ireland! Health tourism is exploding in popularity right now, and Ireland is leading the way in destination-driven health initiatives, making sports and activities more attractive but, more importantly, more accessible than ever before.

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You see, I truly believe that people want to be healthy, fit, well and generally feel better, but there are barriers in place stopping them. From a lack of knowledge, to cost, to intimidation, to a lack of facilities, the list goes on, but the more barriers there are, the greater the chance that we will live more sedentary lives and become increasingly fat and unhealthy.

The popularity of programmes like Operation Transformation prove that once information is packaged simply and promoted effectively, people are genuinely interested in their health.

We have seen the rapid growth of Ireland as an adrenaline junkie's paradise, from surfing to cliff jumping, to mountain running, to the amazing mountain bike trails that are popping up. Those who are super-fit couldn't be happier as this continues to grow nationwide.

But you know what? Those who are fit will always find a way to stay that way, to keep active. They do it on their own anyway. The biggest area for growth is those who aren't already fit or are on the cusp of being fit.

This population demographic needs a helping hand - they want to make the changes, but they need guidance. This is where Ireland is beginning to lead the way.

Take the Ireland Blueway: over 1,000 kilometres of waterway trails, with footpaths perfect for walking, running, cycling, as well as using the waterways themselves for canoeing, kayaking and stand-up paddle-boarding. The Shannon-Erne section of the Blueway had more than 20,000 users over a three-month period, prior to its official launch, and that's only on one section.

Meanwhile, the Greenway in Mayo is bringing in millions in revenue, both directly and indirectly. The Wild Atlantic Way has been an unprecedented success, with similar initiatives now popping up in other parts of the country.

Having cycled several parts of the Wild Atlantic Way, I know it couldn't be simpler. There's an easy-to-follow website, and then once you're on the route, there are large signposts to follow.

Coillte has expanded its walking, hiking and mountain-bike trails, and again there's a simple website and good signposts to follow when you're on the trails.

These initiatives have common traits - come up with a concept that improves people's health; think of a simple name that will attract people to the area; build a website that is easy to use, with maps and trails that can be printed off; and then signpost the trails themselves.

The process is easy, and introduces people to new parts of the country, while improving their health. Not only that, but it brings money and jobs to local areas.

When I go for a run or a cycle or a paddle on these trails, I am always amazed at the beauty of our scenery. If you haven't been out and about on them, then it's time to get up off your rear end and try them.

Google any of the 'Ways' that I have mentioned so far, then book your accommodation and off you go. It can be a weekend or a week, that's very much the beauty of it. Many Irish people now travel to Spain to walk the Camino, but why bother spending the money on the flights and other expenses when we have even better here in Ireland, on our doorstep, within a couple hours' drive?

You will even find training plans and challenges as part of the ways too. The Blueway has a couch-to-10k paddle-training plan with free taster sessions for you to try, to encourage more people to try canoeing - for free!

This week's article is celebrating the work that has been done so far, and all the work that so many don't know exists, because only by getting the message out, will the people follow.

Hopefully I have given you some ideas. Get googling - and now off you go!

Irish Independent

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