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Last Updated: Friday, 14 March 2020  

Sport NI Outlines the Contribution of Sport to Health and Well-being

At a meeting of the Health Committee on Thursday 13 March, Sport Northern Ireland Chief Executive, Professor Eamonn McCartan and Dr John Kremer of Queen’s University, outlined the key role that sport can play in the prevention of depression, self-harm and suicide.


Suicide has a major impact on society. It is the third most ranked cause of death, only behind cardiovascular disease and cancer. On average, there are 150 deaths per year in Northern Ireland due to suicide. And research suggests that in most populations those who exercise may be less prone to suicide.


Addressing the Health Committee Professor McCartan commented, “Low intensity, aerobic exercise, such as swimming or jogging, has been shown to have a positive influence on mood. Those maintaining a high level of physical fitness seem less susceptible to negative effects of high levels of life stress; exercise appears to help act as a buffer to stress and those who are physically fit appear to be more resilient to everyday strains and worries”.


Professor McCartan went onto say that: “Exercise can also play a positive role in reducing self-harm and suicide and the research evidence does suggest that those who exercise are at reduced risk of suicide or self-harm, however there a number of issues that need to be considered.


For an individual on a suicide pathway it is unlikely that exercise alone will produce a ‘one stop’ solution to the combination of circumstances that have led them down that road. Instead exercise may play a valuable role alongside and working with other interventions and support mechanisms”.

Dr John Kremer stated: “Of all mental health problems, the condition that appears most amenable to treatment involving exercise is depression; with strong evidence suggesting that the more serious or clinical the symptoms then the more effective that exercise may be as a remedy.


As research continues in this area it has become apparent that it is the specific types of exercises that appear to have a positive effect. For example, mood state can be elevated most effectively by engaging in repetitive, low intensity aerobic activity such as running or cycling”.


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Last modified: Friday,
14 March 2020.