National Fitness Day - Sport is vital to Welsh health and happiness

National Fitness Day is aimed at highlighting the role physical activity plays in helping us all lead healthier, happier lives.

This year's event, on September 25, will see thousands of events being held the length and breadth of Britain to encourage the population to keep fit.

But many people in Wales are already acting on the fitness message by getting out and getting active.

Participation levels have been on the rise throughout the country in recent years and the signs are there for all too see.

Travel any distance along Wales' roads and you will see dozens of brightly coloured lycra-clad cyclists pedalling for all their worth.

Swimming pools aren't just places to go and splash around with the family for an hour these days - although that's a healthy and fun activity in its own right.

Lane swimming sessions are often the busiest in pool timetables as people take advantage of the all-round, non-impact workout offered by swimming, or are preparing for one of the many triathlons which are now hugely popular throughout Wales.

And the rise of parkrun means you are never far away from a choice of free-of-charge, friendly and welcoming opportunities to get out and run for fun in some of our country's most beautiful locations on a Saturday morning.

Running has become a hugely popular way for people to not only stay active but also widen their circle of friends.

Social running clubs are on the increase thanks to organisations such as Run Wales, set up in order to increase and support participation throughout the country.

Speaking at the inaugural Run Wales Relays at Pembrey Country Park near Llanelli earlier this month, South East Wales running activator Hannah Phillips, says: "There's a massive increase in people taking part in running.

"Running, particularly social running, is the biggest mass participation sport in Wales at the moment.

"There are more runners out there than football players or rugby players. It's huge, absolutely huge. The amount of groups we are taking on at the moment is mind-blowing. It's marvellous, but mind-blowing."

The message from these inclusive, welcoming forms of gaining fitness is that the help and backing is there for anyone who wants to improve their energy levels and keep healthy.

Phillips adds: "The influx at the moment is huge because this is a sport for everybody.

"We at Run Wales champion social runners. That doesn't mean that we don't champion every runner. We are literally shouting from the rooftops that anyone can run.

"We are supporting everyone who wants to run, whether they are running a five minute mile or a 15 minute mile and beyond. We are all about just getting people out there and seeing the benefits of running, especially social running."

And the advantages are not just physical.

 "There are benefits to mental health and physical health. The main one we see in our groups is the mental health side of things.

"We are changing people's lives. I don't think that is getting reported enough. Some of the stories we have heard over these short few years - because we are still a relatively new programme - they are amazing.

"Some of the things people have gone through are very tough and they are putting on their trainers and getting out there and running.

"We have got our awards coming up and some of the nominations that have come in are absolutely amazing, truly inspiring stories."

The Run Wales Relays were held as part of the Welsh Road Relays event which attracts athletics club teams such as Cardiff Athletics and Swansea Harriers from all over Wales.

The long established competition between Wales' established clubs featured the likes of Wales Commonwealth Games star Jenny Nesbitt and Cardiff's Dan Nash, who recently won a bronze medal at the 50km World Championships in Romania

The Run Wales Relay, run over a shorter loop of the same course, was for social running groups, such as "The Green Flashes" and "The Fast and the Curious".

Phillips says the event was an opportunity for all abilities to enjoy a competitive event in a relaxed and fun atmosphere.

"We had 18 teams registered for today but we are ready now to market if for next year to make it huge.

"It's inclusive, as you can see there are people of all shapes, sizes and ages. It's been fantastic today and so nice to see."

Phillips says more and more people are joining the running revolution.

"Group wise, in the last year, we've gone from something in the region of around 63 to about 155. I feel like we are making a difference to people.

"We support a lot of Couch to 5k runners, too, because we see it as fundamental to running these days.

"And there are lots and lots of people out there who are running that we don't know about yet."

For anyone looking to set up or join a club, Phillips had this advice: "Have a look on our website, or get in touch with one of our activators, we have them all over Wales, and we will support you to get your group up and running or we will show you where your nearest group is.

"We can give you support with funding your group, up skilling and everything like that."

Among those competing in the main Welsh Road relays event was London World Athletics Championships and Gold Coast Commonwealth Games race walker Bethan Davies.

The Cardiff Athletics club member said changing disciplines from walking to running was one of the activities that had helped her overcome the disappointment of earlier this month missing out on being named in the Great Britain team for the forthcoming World Athletics Championships in Doha.

Davies believes being active, whatever the sport, is vital for everyone.

She says: "Being active is the most important thing. I'm definitely motivated by being healthy and that's the thing I love.

"That's why over the last two weeks, instead of doing nothing, which I could have done after the disappointment, I've done lots of random things. I've been running, I went to a ballet class . . . I've done all these fun things.

"Sport is so important for everyone and there's always something you can get involved with and Welsh Athletics does some really great competitions that are open to anyone, from the complete beginner to the elite.

"And events like the road relays, you'll have people who are Commonwealth Games athletes and you'll have people who have probably only run a couple of times before. And there are races for the kids, too.

"I think these are key events because it shows that athletics and sport in general is there for every single member of the community."

So, whether it's a "plank off", High Street HIIT class or a one minute boxing challenge . . . try one of the activities being promoted by National Fitness Day.

If you're looking for ideas, go to the National Fitness Day website, where you can find all kinds of activities on offer around the country.

https://www.nationalfitnessday.com/