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These boots are made for walking

THE First Minister has put his mouth where his shoes are. Jack McConnell yesterday (Thursday) pulled up his socks and walked to school with pupils from Blackridge primary in West Lothian.

More daily walking for young people and adults forms a key part of the Scottish Executive's physical activity strategy to lift the nation off its behind and into easy, healthy activity. Only half an hour of moderate activity a day - equivalent to a brisk walk - cuts the risk from heart attacks, strokes and cancer and leads to better mental health, the Executive argues.

Ministers are largely supporting the recommendations of the Physical Activity Task Force, chaired by John Beattie, the sports commentator, which reported last June. Since then, Mary Allison has been appointed as the first national activity co-ordinator, or fitness tsar.

Mr McConnell pointed out that from the age of 11 the majority of the population are inactive with the poorest sections of the community likely to be the most inactive. Girls are particularly inactive.

The new strategy sets new targets for physical activity levels. But Ms Allison has already conceded that societal trends will make it difficult to reach the target of having 80 per cent of children active for an hour every day within 20 years.

Ministers accept that they will have to improve facilities and raise awareness in different sectors. They want people to be more active in the home, in schools, in their wider communities and at their workplace.

Strategies for each are being developed.

Nicol Stephen, Deputy Education Minister, is already chairing the further review of physical education and school sport that was launched last autumn.

Ministers will monitor what they hope will be increased levels of activity among teenagers through a survey carried out by Edinburgh University.

Mr Beattie's report recommended an hour a day of physical activity for all young people, including walking and cycling to school, core PE and after-school activities. Up to the end of secondary, they should have two hours of quality PE a week.

Studies for the task force revealed that two out of three 16-year-old girls and one in three boys of the same age failed to meet basic activity and fitness levels. Girls, especially, were turned off PE. They said there was little choice, it was only for "sporty" people and no fun.

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