An innovative free afterschool exercise programme will be rolled out in Carlow this week to provide local children aged 6-12 with increased muscle strength, cardiovascular health and fundamental movement skills.
It comes in the wake of international research showing that only 17% of primary school children meet the national physical activity guidelines, and the emergence of new conditions in children such as Paediatric Dynapenia (reduced muscle strength).
STEP (Structured Training Exercise Programme) START is the brainchild of Damien Sheehan, a certified athletic therapist (CAT) and lecturer in Strength and Conditioning in the Department of Health and Science at Institute of Technology Carlow.
Supported by a team of M.Sc. and 3rd year undergraduate students on the B.Sc. (Hons) strength & conditioning programme at the Institute, the STEP START programme will introduce six weeks of fun, strength and aged appropriate exercise for children.
"The Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Strength and Conditioning at IT Carlow is the only course of its kind that includes a paediatric module so our team are applying all our knowledge and skills within the STEP START programme.
"Research by the Children’s Sport Participation and Physical Activity Study (CSPPA) shows that school-going children are becoming less fit and, worryingly, lacking in strength.
"Dynapenia is the age-associated loss of muscle strength, and we are now hearing about Paediatric Dynapenia where kids have reduced muscle strength and power levels, which can lead a deteriorating cycle of poor motor skills and poor moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) levels.
"STEP START delivers a strength and conditioning based programme to address these physical issues but it’s done in a fun way so they kids think it’s play, not an evidence-based exercise programme," said Damien Sheehan.
Classes will take place for six weeks on Monday and Wednesday from 3.30pm-4.30pm in the Barrow Centre at IT Carlow with the first class kicking off on October 7.
STEP START is a drop-in offering so all are welcome, although booking is advised. A second six-week programme will be delivered at Gaelscoil Carlow on Wednesdays from next week.
STEP START has ran successfully for the last five years and the programme is constantly updated to take into account the physical requirements and deficits of school-going children.
Damien hopes that his Masters and undergraduate students will eventually deliver set up and deliver similar programmes elsewhere.
He added: "18% of primary school children receive no more than 30 minutes of PE per week and 63% meet the two-hour screen time threshold.
"Irish children are not just becoming more unfit, they’re lacking in strength which can result in greater health implications later in life and therefore put increase pressure on an already overload and unprepared health service.
"At STEP START we use balloons, medballs and other props to aid the children strength development and the kids love it. They think it’s an hour of games."