Physical Activity Programme
We tend to think that physical activity explicitly means sports and planned exercise. Planned recreational exercise is popular in Finland and more common in Helsinki than in the rest of the country on average. However, it cannot make up for a reduced amount of incidental activity. Only about 10–40 per cent of people of all ages move enough to remain healthy. Finns typically spend their waking hours either seated or lying down, and use a car to get around. Lifts, escalators and home appliances make everyday life easier, and smart devices and entertainment technology reduce the need to move. Not even all the children taking part in regular, supervised sports get enough exercise.
The consequences are severe: as physical capabilities and fitness level deteriorate, so do our energy levels, health and quality of life. Inactivity and a sedentary lifestyle expose us to the risk of becoming overweight and developing various illnesses, such as atherosclerosis, musculoskeletal disorders and cancer. According to the WHO, inactivity is globally the fourth most common reason for premature death after high blood pressure, high blood sugar and smoking. Furthermore, spending a lot of time sitting is a known health risk, regardless of whether a person does sports or exercises. It has been estimated that inactivity is already costing Finland billions of euros in healthcare expenses, sick leave days and lowered workplace productivity.
Example of the first marketing campaign: “why won’t you walk to the next stop”
Inactivity is a lifestyle choice, not an exercise-related choice. Successful reduction of inactivity requires a holistic, cross-sectoral approach, low-threshold measures, new operating models and above all, active participation from operators outside the sports and exercise sector. Helsinki’s Physical Activity Programme aims to make physical activity a permanent part of every aspect of its residents’ daily lives. All of the City’s divisions are participating in the programme, and it lists the specific methods of each division for increasing people’s physical activity levels. The measures are targeted at early education, comprehensive education, services for the elderly, development of the urban environment and public spaces, and the City’s personnel.
The intention of the programme is not to force or coerce anyone to move more, but to encourage people in a positive way to adopt a new way of thinking and to advertise the opportunities offered by the City to increase incidental activity. The general impression seems to be that the only beneficial form of physical activity is vigorous and strenuous exercising that involves sweating. However, even small amounts of everyday incidental activity have health and wellbeing benefits. Learning that every little bit of moving helps will change our behaviour and attitudes and remove our mental obstacles to physical activity. Helsinki wants to make physical activity an easy, smooth and attractive choice in people’s everyday lives.
We are working together with our partners and stakeholders on the Physical Activity Programme. The programme’s focal points are being implemented through a new type of collaboration and customer-centred approach by strengthening international networks, utilising digital solutions and information, and identifying the various needs, wishes and motives of the city’s residents.
Being physically active will pay off. Adequate physical activity levels promote physical and mental health, prevent illnesses and maintain people’s ability to function. Many people associate physical activity with positive themes, such as friends, time spent together with others, improved social skills, happiness and a sense of accomplishment. In addition to this, walking and cycling effectively reduce levels of greenhouse emissions and noise. Staying physically active will also promote brain health and improve memory, mathematical skills and linguistic abilities. Furthermore, it has been shown to promote a peaceful learning environment and improve the atmosphere at schools.
The Helsinki City Board decided on the Physical Activity Programme on 3 December 2018. The implementation of the programme aims for continuous improvements, and the programme will transform into concrete actions in the residents’ daily lives, with the City’s employees, businesses, clubs, associations and residents working together. Come and join us!
We all could move a bit more!