****18/7/2013. An edited version of an article i came across recently:

Years ago growing up in Cavan, we didn’t have spinning classes or gyms or a school bus, but every morning we rode our bicycles three or four miles to school and home again in the evening. Lifting bales of hay, and feeding cows, pigs, sheep and horses were our gym workouts where we did our ab exercises at a time when we didn’t know what abs were.

We didn’t think about exercising or how good it was for our health. We didn’t know that cycling, like regular exercise, increases aerobic fitness, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and lowers cholesterol. Nor did we know that it helps tone up calves, thighs and hips, and can burn off up to 700 calories per hour.  Studies have shown that those who cycle have a significantly lower mortality rate. We knew none of that. Ninety-nine per cent of the students rode bicycles to our school. We even had a big bicycle shed along the wall in the yard. The most common excuse for being late for school was “the chain came off my bike, Sir”.

Now the number of children riding bikes to school is between 1pc and 2pc. When you take a scan across Europe, this is an incredibly low figure. And when it comes to secondary schools, there are more girls driving cars to school than there are riding bicycles. Compare this with Germany, where 14pc of children ride bicycles to school, or Holland, where 49pc of children cycle to school.

All of this is against a background where our children are now amongst the most unhealthy in Europe. The latest figures are truly shocking. We have 100,000 children classed as obese and 300,000 classed as overweight. The most recent figures show that 31.8pc of seven year olds are either obese or overweight. These children have a great chance of developing serious health problems, like high cholesterol, diabetes, breathing problems – not to mention low self-esteem and depression.

** Exercise is a matter of life and death, so go for the walk, put on the running shoes, get down to the gym, attend a good fitness class or get on your bike. Take your children cycling with you. If your going on holiday, build exercise into your plans and make it fun for all the family