Despite an encouraging study showing the numbers of adults who regularly take part in exercise is growing in Wales, it is growing faster in other parts of the country than in Gwent, KEILIGH BAKER discovers.

RECENT headlines announced that sport participation in Wales is at an all time high – yet statistics show Gwent has some of the lowest participation in the country.

A recent report by Sport Wales found there has been a 34 per cent jump in adult sport participation in Wales between 2008 and 2012.

The Active Adults survey says it has found ‘significant’ growth in participation with the numbers of adults taking part in sport or physical activity three or more times a week at their highest ever levels.

The figures show a major jump from 29 per cent of the adult population taking part three or more times a week in 2008 to 39 per cent in 2012 – 262,000 more people, and a 34 per cent increase in the number of people enjoying the many benefits of sport.

However, when participation is analysed by macro region, it is highest in the Rural North, 75 per cent, and lowest in the South Wales Valleys – including Blaenau Gwent and Caerphilly, at 66 per cent.

Furthermore, three of Gwent’s local authorities have the lowest rate of sports club membership at just 22 per cent in Newport, Torfaen and Blaenau Gwent compared to 42 per cent in the Vale of Glamorgan.

The report also found that in a survey of adults, Blaenau Gwent scored below average – just 59 per cent said they thought their health was ‘good’ or ‘very good’, compared to the national average of 65 per cent; just 35 per cent said it was important for them to regularly exercise, compared to the national average of 38 per cent; and 34 per cent said they encourage family members to take part in exercise, compared to the national average of 35 per cent.

In fact, none of Gwent’s authorities consistently scored higher than the national average – while 71 per cent of people in Monmouthshire said their health was good, well above the national average, just 34 per cent said they encouraged family members to take part in exercise.

Organisers of parkruns in Newport and Pontypool, for example, now regularly see hundreds of runners taking part every Sunday, but the message does not seem to be getting across as widely in Gwent as in other areas of Wales.

So while participation may be growing, it would appear in Gwent it is not growing at the same rate as the rest of Wales.

But John Griffiths AM has welcomed the findings, which suggests a third of the public in the Newport East constituency are ‘hooked on sport’.

He said “I have always been proud to hail from and represent a city with such a rich sporting heritage.

“The fact one in five of the Newport East participants in the Active Adult survey was a member of a sports club is a good indicator this heritage is still alive and well.

“However, the findings of the survey suggested we still have some way to go: our constituency’s ‘Hooked in Sport’ rating is slightly below the Welsh average, while less than half of us acknowledged it was important to take part in sport or exercise on a regular basis.

“This illustrates that we need to continue emphasising the importance of sport and exercise to a healthy lifestyle.”

The report found an increase in participation in sport translates into a potential saving to the NHS in Wales of £53 million a year, as the survey shows people who are exercising three or more times a week are much more likely to report ‘good’ or ‘very good’ health.

Lee James, from the Spirit of Monmouth Running Club, said the club has seen an increase in membership over the last 12 months.

He said: “This time last year we had 60 members, now we have around 75.

“We have a number of running clubs from couch to 5k and a 10-week beginners course to get people running.

“Of the 24 people who signed up for that one, eight went on to join our club permanently.

“For me personally I started running to lose weight when I was hitting the milestone age of 40.

“You could say it was something of a mid-life crisis, but I think you are definitely seeing an increase in people in their 40s who are taking more of an interest in being fit and healthy.”

Chris Vorres has been running for more than 20 years and is the Pontypool and District Runners’ race director.

She said: “There has definitely been an increase in the number of people taking part in sports.

“Our membership has doubled in the last year and in particular in the last few months.

“During the parkruns we regularly have 100 or 150 people turning up.

“I think there are lots of reasons for this increase, but I think the biggest thing is people are becoming aware that exercise can be fun.

“Our beginners group stared with just four young girls, now it regularly has 50 people turn up.”

Across Wales there have been impressive increases in sports like swimming as 15.7 per cent of adults now head to the pool, compared to 11.4 per cent in 2008.

Some 13.4 per cent enjoy running, jogging or other athletic disciplines, compared to 6.9 per cent in 2008 while 10.3 per cent cycle or enjoy mountain biking compared to 7.5 per cent in 2008.

Sarah Powell, Sport Wales Chief Executive, said: “This is very positive and exciting news for sport in Wales.

“These increases are taking place right across the age range from 15 through to the over 65s.

“The figures are increasing at a faster rate than elsewhere and mark a significant upturn in what has been a very static set of figures historically.

“Of course, this means any changes to services and facilities brought about by current financial challenges in the public sector could have serious ramifications for the continuation of this success.

“This data also shows us very plainly there is a clear and significant association between sport and improved health. There’s always more to do of course.

“The survey once again highlights the groups who are less likely to participate regularly – women and those from deprived areas, for example – which is why we have recently launched £3m of Calls for Action funding to those who can deliver positive action.”

The report found:

* 39 per cent of the adult population are hooked on sport – participating on three or more occasions a week; the figure for 2008/09 was 29 per cent.

* Males are more likely to be hooked on sport – 46 per cent in comparison with 32 per cent for females.

* 70 per cent of adults participated in sport or physical recreation in the four weeks prior to interview.

* Participation in the four weeks prior to interview was higher than average for mixed/multiple ethnic groups (85 per cent); adults without a long term illness, health problem or disability (79 per cent); the gay and lesbian population (80 per cent) and Welsh speakers (79 per cent).

* 40 per cent of the adult population in Wales (35 per cent male, 46 per cent female) do no frequent activity

* 27 per cent of adults are members of a sports club

* 10 per cent of adults volunteered in sport in the previous 12 months.

* 10 per cent of adults in Wales had undertaken coaching in the last 12 months in a voluntary capacity, as part of a job or for payment.