The Government has been urged to give tax breaks to those who try to be physically active, to encourage people to stay healthy.

A new lobby group, the Irish Physical Activity Alliance (IPAA), led by Darina Dunne wants a tax rebate for gym memberships to be included in Octobers budget. This will allow people with gym memberships to claim tax back on those amounts under health expenses.

The IPAA has emphasised the importance of exercise in ensuring people stay independent and healthy as they get older. Phil Brown was contacted by Darina to accompany her on her campaign to Leinster House last week. Together, along with others they presented on the topic to local politicians on behalf of the Irish Fitness Industry.

IPAA chairwoman, Darina Dunne said she began the lobbying campaign for very personal reasons:

“I have chronic heart disease – I only discovered it quite recently. It’s the same disease that killed my dad when he was 49.

You probably look at me and think I’m as healthy as a horse. But if I hadn’t started an intervention, I’d probably be dead now. When I went to my cardiologist, he said to me the difference between me and my Dad is that I’m still physically fit. So I’ve had 30 years without my Dad. He wasn’t at my graduation; when I bought my first car, which doesn’t seem important, but it was the first car in our house; my wedding – the really significant things he’s missed out on and it’s completely preventable.

I’m lucky that I know that, I’m getting the exercise, but I just want other people to know that… there’s something that could be done about it.”

Phil Brown, 64, is an ovarian cancer survivor who took up weightlifting in 2018 after her treatment ended:

“I’ve represented Weightlifting Ireland four times at the European Masters Championships. I have bronze and silver medals, and I absolutely love it. I was just coming back from looking after my 93-year-old mum, who’s in Tipperary, who has broken both her hips. She can’t walk anymore. One of the things I have to do for my mum is take down bags of fuel for her, and they’re 40kg bags and I have to lift them from the wheelbarrow into the fuel bin, and I can do that on my own. She’s so feeble and so frail now, it really drives me on to stay really, really strong. I’m in better shape now than I was when I was in my 30s, I’d say – I’m fitter, I have a better structure, better muscle tone, and I just love it.

I think it’s a really important Government policy because they’re always on about obesity and about the pressures of the health service, and this will be one way to get people moving.”

Tax rebates are effective and gym owners say people cancel gym membership because they “see it as a discretionary spend”. But implementing a tax break without an information campaign on the benefit of physical exercise is “pointless”. This isn’t about getting a tax break, this is about getting people more physically active. So we’re saying to Government: implement a tax incentive to reframe physical activity in the mindset of the public and work with us to educate the public to know the true benefits of physical activity.

As an analytical chemist, Darina was shocked to read statistics on the bone density of women in Ireland and that the main reason people are in nursing homes is loss of muscle mass, which she said is “completely preventable”. Ireland has the worst levels of osteoporosis in Europe, and cited a “frightening” statistic that 50% of women over 65 in Ireland will break a hip, and 30 per cent of that cohort will die within three years. People say, ‘I must do exercise’, but I they don’t actually know the real impact that it has.

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