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Sport’s role in being healthy and active

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Sporting memories can last a lifetime, but soon they could actually be helping extend and improve lives across Wales.

The Sporting Memories Network is just one of 17 projects that have been given funding in a bid to get people physically active and also assist with their mental health.

The £5.4m Healthy and Active Fund is a collaborative approach between sports groups, charities, and other organisations of which the sporting memories idea is just one of the more radical.

The idea, though, is simple. Get older people together to talk about sport. It could be a game they once played themselves, or a great match or memorable sports star from the past.

In the activity of reminiscing in a sociable setting, it is hoped there will be benefits in combating dementia, isolation and loneliness. After all, it's sometimes easier for any of us to remember the line-up from a much-loved classic Cup final, than it is to recall where we've put our car keys.

Once you've jogged a memory, you may even get someone to jog in a physical sense - or at least lead them towards walking football, walking netball, or darts.

Like the other 16 projects, sports groups are directly involved. In this case, the Cardiff City Community Foundation, Ospreys in the Community, Glamorgan Cricket Club and Cricket Wales.

The idea of the fund is to change behaviour, rather than just stump up the cash for an idea that runs its course and then comes to a halt when it runs out of money.

By getting people active - those who are older, or children, or those in deprived areas, or those with illness or disability - the hope is that they develop a habit and taste for continuing to be active even when the initial funding may have ended.

The fund is a three-way partnership between Welsh Government, Public Health Wales and Sport Wales, with two-thirds of the money coming from the Welsh Government's health budget.

Steve Woodfine, project manager for Sport Wales on the fund, says: "What is different about this, is that sport has always talked about its impact on health and well-being, the economy, and all sorts of societal issues, but in this case, health organisations have actually put their hands in their pickets and said, 'We believe in you. Here's some money towards the fund. Help us deliver some longer term health benefits across Wales.'

"We are looking at addressing inactivity in certain population groups. It's not just about getting people to try something once. It's about getting them to want to do things, day-in, day-out over a long term, so there is a longer benefit to their health. That's quite a challenge."

This is where sports clubs come in. They provide the meeting points and a warm welcome that hopefully makes activity attractive.

As well as football, cricket and rugby, other sports such as gymnastics, netball and athletics are involved, too.

Woodfine adds: "Once we provide the confidence and the connections, locally, then it makes it easier for people to carry on. That's what these projects are about - things that are sustainable.

"We don't want to do things like free leisure centre access for six to eight weeks and then afterwards people go back to their normal behaviour. That's not achieving anything."

Among the 17 are also ideas involving older people's Olympics, multi-generational gardening, and activity aimed at the first 1,000 days of a young person's life.

The funding may be very modest, but the ambitions are large and in that sense much of the emphasis is on seeing what works and looking at the data.

Help and advice is given to each project along the way and the results are being assessed.

If older people in Bridgend, or disabled people in Wrexham, can be attracted towards being more active through a particular project, then the aim is to consider how a far bigger upscaling across Wales might benefit the nation's health.

"It's exciting," says  Woodfine. "These are not projects about doing things the traditional way, with normal Sport Wales partners.

"The spin-off benefits are really important and we want to learn more about that. Hopefully, we can discover an approach which is ground-breaking and we can then impact on policies which are trying to address these issues.

"If we can show that these projects are providing benefits, then perhaps we can persuade ministers to provide further funding."

Remembering that Grand Slam rugby team from the Seventies, or who Billy Jean King beat in a Wimbledon final, might yet prove vital in staying healthy in mind and body.