Put on your running shoes

It has been a very exciting week for sport and physical activity across the Maltese islands. Whenever the upper echelons of national sport and exercise management and administration get together in the same room and start discussing stuff like national policy and future growth, good things are bound to happen.

A massively-scaled, no-holds-barred national sports forum organised by Sport Malta ran from April 15 to 23, consisting of a series of conferences and seminars stretching from Gozo to the south of Malta. A wide range of topics and issues were thrashed out, including obesity, inactivity, sport performance, lifelong participation in exercise and integrating more physical activity in schools both now and in the future.

Chris Agius, Parliamentary Secretary for Innovation, Research and Youth in Sport, as well as senior management officials from Sport Malta, including CEO Mark Cutajar, attended each event, addressing audiences with impassioned exposition concerning the various cultural and logistical challenges faced by local sport organisations, as well as strategies for overcoming them.

While we continue to report poor performance in international obesity and inactivity rankings, it’s easy to forget the ongoing work of local academics and sport administrators, often behind the scenes, and not always immediately apparent. Indeed, it never ceases to amaze me how such a colossal task is entrusted to such a dedicated few, and just how much more they would be able to achieve with more assistance and financing.

Hats off to our small but unstoppable team of local sports and exercise crusaders

Head of sport and physical education at the University of Malta, Dr Andrew Decelis, and his full complement of staff were also on the scene. He was keen to report on some of the changes currently under way in higher eduction, designed to empower key sports and exercise professionals of the future with the broad range of skills needed to facilitate positive change. These changes are set to embrace the wider context of physical activity, strengthening not only sports infrastructures, but also the fitness and active leisure sectors too.

Gemma Van Vuuren Cassar spoke at the Mcast conference, specifically about integrating physical activity and exercise for health across the lifespan, from the early years at school right through middle age to the senior years. She also reported on the wonderful phenomenon currently trending in the UK known as ‘walking sports’.

The ingenious concept complements the more widespread notion of mini-games, which are basically scaled-down adaptations of popular sports and intended for young children. The mini-game version of basketball, for instance, involves fewer players on each team, lower posts with larger rings and simpler rules, all designed to increase the amount of play time enjoyed by each child, and enhance the chances of success through more frequent scoring.

Walking sports are similarly adapted versions of popular sports, although intended for an altogether different demographic, completing the continuum of lifelong participation in physical activity and truly embracing the philosophy of sport for all.

Walking sports essentially mean that games like football, rugby and netball, to name but a few, can be played with pretty much the same rules, only walking is the chosen travelling movement instead of running.

This simple modification helps bring more people together, because anyone can play regardless of age, gender or level of ability. Similar to race walking, the defining rule is that one foot must be in contact with the ground at all times. If you ever wanted to get back into your favourite sport, in appropriate sports language, here is your ‘shot’.

The National Sports Forum presented too many brilliant ideas to mention here, but one of the resounding realisations I am proud to come away with is the obvious and impressive expertise, passion, and dedication of our local sports and exercise professionals, despite the limited resources available to them.

Currently, our children have access to numerous initiatives and programmes designed to get them in shape while having fun, and it looks like it is only a matter of time before adults of all ages are presented with the same easily accessible opportunities. That said, we do not need to wait around either, because while the options will become ever more plentiful, it is always the right time to get moving. We often over-complicate the affair when it comes to getting active and healthy. We talk about supersets, pyramids, periodisation, lactate thresholds and all sorts of other stuff you may or may not wish to find out more about.

But it really does not have to be that complicated. At the end of the day it is all about getting your body moving more than it is moving now. If you can manage this, the major joints and muscles of your body actually get to do what they were designed to do. Your increased heart rate means oxygen and fuel-rich blood get pumped around the body, taking your heart through the paces it was similarly designed for. Your anatomical structures will avoid becoming disused or diseased, two terms very much related in the sport and exercise world.

It’s about having fun, feeling good, protecting your psychological health in this stressful world, and socialising just as social species like ours were meant to do. So in the meantime, it’s hats off to our small but unstoppable team of local sports and exercise crusaders, and running shoes on for the rest of us, because that is a decision you are never likely to regret.