OLIVER DOWDEN: Now is the time to once again get outside and get active

Spring is here, the days are getting warmer and longer, and with the next stage of the roadmap coming into effect we are finally seeing the return of some of the things we love.

That starts, thankfully, with sport. From Monday morning, grassroots teams will be taking to pitches across the country, while tennis and basketball courts, golf courses and outdoor swimming pools will be opening their doors to the public for the first time in months.

Parents will be cheering with relief as their children reunite with their five-a-side, cricket and netball teams. Golfers will be eyeing up their morning tee-off with anticipation.

From Monday morning, grassroots teams will return to pitches across the country

From Monday morning, grassroots teams will return to pitches across the country

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden is urging the country to get outside and get active again

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden is urging the country to get outside and get active again

We promised sport would be at the front of the reopening queue, and it is – behind only the return of schools. That’s because, as Sportsmail has rightfully highlighted in its grassroots sport campaign, physical activity is crucial for both our health and mental wellbeing.

Regular exercise doesn’t just help keep us trim. It reduces the risk of major illnesses such as heart disease and cancer, helps us sleep better and manage stress and anxiety, and improves our overall mood. We’ve all felt those benefits first-hand after a strenuous workout, just as we’ve seen them in our children whenever they come home after a good runabout in the park.

Covid brought the value of exercise home to us all. Millions of people have sorely missed the chance to get outdoors and play sport, and though I know many have made valiant efforts to keep fit, it’s been a constant struggle to stay motivated. The restrictions will have taken their mental and physical toll on all of us.

Parents will cheer with relief as children reunite with five-a-side, cricket and netball teams

Parents will cheer with relief as children reunite with five-a-side, cricket and netball teams

So it’s time to make the most of this moment.

With the ‘stay at home’ order coming to an end, I’m calling on everyone to get outside and get active – whether it’s doing laps of the local lido, playing five-a-side football with friends or heading down to the village green to break out the cricket whites, leather and willow.

The Chief Medical Officer recommends that children aim for at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day and that adults get at least two and a half hours a week.

Let’s use sport’s return as a trigger to become fitter.

Month by month, we’re steadily travelling through the steps back to normality. First we had the successful return of our schools – a huge milestone for the country. I for one have seen a genuine change now that kids are back in the classroom and how happy they are to be reunited with their friends.

The CMO has recommended that children aim for at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day

The CMO has recommended that children aim for at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day

From Monday, adults will be able to do the same, with the latest stage of the roadmap permitting social gatherings of six people or two households in parks, private gardens and other outdoor settings.

None of this would have been possible without the astonishing pace of our jab rollout. Over half of the entire UK adult population have now been vaccinated, with thousands being added to that tally every day.

That’s incredible progress and it means we’re not only able to plough on with this stage of the roadmap but also to look forward with optimism to Steps 2, 3 and beyond.

As we take this step by step with increasing confidence, we’re doing as much as we can to prepare for the reopening of everything else, too.

We’re holding a number of pilots for mass events so that we can test the return of spectators and audiences – including the FA Cup final and the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible.

There has been superb progress and this stage of our roadmap means sport is edging closer

There has been superb progress and this stage of our roadmap means sport is edging closer

Sports clubs are ready and waiting to welcome back fans thanks to our £600milion Sport Winter Survival Package, which has provided them with unparalleled financial support during the bleakest months of this crisis.

On Monday, we announce the final beneficiaries of that package – with rugby league, rugby union, horseracing, National League football and the Women’s Super League, athletics and speedway all getting a funding boost to help them prepare for reopening.

Stadiums are dusting down their seats and preparing their programmes, ready for spectators to start making their way through the turnstiles once more.

In the months to come, all of these dreams will gradually become a reality. The journey towards them begins on Monday t- and not a moment too soon.

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