Exercise infrastructure in a time of pandemic
With Ireland holding the lockdown record in Europe at over 160 days, our ability to exercise locally within 5km or now 20 km has become a crucial topic for wellbeing and mental health.
Many of us have seen new walking paths and cycle lanes opened in communities around the country. €240 million has been allocated to building these new routes, half of them in Dublin. What a thrill to see this type of infrastructure coming on stream; the Famine Way and the Beara Breifne Way are two great examples. Historically in Ireland we never took this type of infrastructure seriously, Bord Failte and tourism policy focused on the quality of hotel rooms and food service. We have a lot of catching up to do and still have only a few equivalents of the French Grande Randonnée, marked trails that crisscross all of France and add up to 100,000 km of trails. The GR34 for example runs the entire length of the Britany coast. Closer to home, in 2012 already, the Welsh opened a walk that runs the entire 1400 km length of the Welsh coastline. For an Ireland nation, our longest coastal walks are only a few kilometres long, most walkers would be done in an hour or two.
And what about the current groundswell for open water swimming, especially sea swimming? Every coastal community, cove, beach and harbour around the country has seen a huge increase in the number of open water swimmers during the pandemic. With temperatures ranging between 5C in winter and 13C in summer our seas and oceans are accessible all year. The incredible range of health benefits have been well reported. But more importantly perhaps, sea swimming is gender and age neutral with all members of society able to participate. Yet there is very little infrastructure or policy initiatives for sea swimmers. Swim Ireland’s 2017 Strategic Plan focuses on pool sports and training with hardly a mention of sea swimming. In Australia, most coastal communities have fully kitted out clubhouses for sea swimmers, with showers and education facilities. In Ireland, swimmers complain that they hardly have a nail to hang a towel on.
We are an island nation. When we can’t travel further afield all we have is our beautiful countryside and surrounding ocean. Let’s build the infrastructure to make it accessible and usable. Get involved with your community to get more of this type of local infrastructure built, or if you have concerns or objections, engage to get them resolved so that projects that benefit your community do not have to be delayed for years.
What outdoor infrastructure is your community building to increase wellbeing? Let us know in the comments.