IRISH Olympians Rob and Marian Heffernan are encouraging Cork children to exercise and say parents need to take more responsibility for this.
Appearing on RTÉ earlier this week, the husband and wife said that children exercising should be as much a part of the family’s daily routine as walking the dog.
“You wouldn’t get a dog and not bring them for a walk; the same should go for your kids,” Rob said.
Speaking to The Echo after his television appearance, the 41-year-old said he wasn’t concerned if he was criticed for making the comments.
“The comments have resonated with most people in a positive way, but I’m not afraid of backlash, if it comes my way. I never am when it’s something I feel so strongly about,” he said.
Since retiring from elite athletics, in 2018, Rob, a race walker, has become an advocate for increased physical activity among young people.
“I’m currently working for Bank of Ireland, as a community and youth ambassador for Cork,” he said. “In that role, I go into schools and teach young people about financial literacy, but I also encourage positive health and wellbeing habits.”
Rob and Marian, who have four children, say children should be active from a very young age.
“It’s all about tricking them into going for a walk or kicking a ball around,” Rob said. “It should be something fun to do.
“My mother has a Fitbit, for example, and my youngest two are obsessed with nana getting her steps in.
“There’s an awareness there of the importance of exercise, but it becomes like a game.”
Last year, Rob organised the ‘Rebel Mile’ in schools in Cork to get children moving and put out the challenge to students to run the mile quicker than he could walk it. Out of the fifteen schools, only one student completed the mile faster than Rob.
“The number of kids who aren’t getting enough physical exercise is worrying,” he said. “It’s clinically proven that exercise releases positive endorphins. This, in turn, has a positive impact on society.
“When you look at the levels of crime in Cork, at the moment, I could almost guarantee that those young people aren’t involved in sport.”
Rob will be doing the Rebel Mile again this year, but he has also started ‘Cork’s Fittest Schools’ to promote physical activity.
“I have them jumping, running 20 metres, a 60-second shuttle run, and a med ball throw,” Rob said. “I was inspired to start it after my family took part in Ireland’s Fittest Family. I think what’s important, though, is that it’s not a competitive thing, it’s a bit of fun
“Dancing With The Stars helped me see that exercise can just be for fun. I got so much enjoyment from working away and trying to improve what I could do,” Rob said.
“Of course, it’s good to be competitive with yourself, but it’s important to have an understanding of your level.”