On 24th September 2021, the Slovenian Presidency of the council of the European Union organised a conference on Lifelong Physical Activity, to promote the importance of being active at all ages.
In her introductory speech, Ms Simona Kustec, Slovenian Minister of Education, Science and Sport, emphasised the importance of starting physical activity in early childhood, when communities play a big part. Being active from a very young age will help to set habits throughout one’s life. This is not only a question of sport but mostly of creating healthy societies, with individuals who are physically and mentally fit. Ms Kustec also highlighted the high-quality monitoring system in Slovenia called SloFit, to assess children’s levels of physical activity.
MEP Tomasz Frankowski further emphasized the importance of physical activity for individuals’ energy levels and for their health. He explained that regular exercise is linked to a reduced risk of several diseases, including cardiovascular ones. Ms Themis Christophidou, Director-General for Education, Youth, Sport, Culture at the European Commission, stated that although the health benefits of physical activity are now well established, the latest Eurobarometer survey shows an increase in physical inactivity. The pandemic also complicated the possibility to exercise, while further highlighting its importance. There is therefore a momentum to bring more awareness to the major role of physical activity across all generations.
Subsequently, various panels discussed the topic in more detail. Prof. Ken Green of the University of Chester agreed on the importance of starting physical activity habits in early childhood to ensure that they last in adulthood. Ms Laura Capranica of the University of Rome underlined the importance of a holistic approach and cross-sectoral cooperation to maximize the benefits of an active society. It is important to have an approach linking science, policies and practices. Dr Kremlin Wickramasinghe, Programme Manager of Non-Communicable Diseases at the WHO Europe, added that it is crucial to have proper data and solid data collection processes to prepare evidence-based policies.
Panelists also noted that it is now more and more recognized that physical activity is a topic in itself and not just linked to nutritional and weight-loss strategies. It is a public health topic that should be addressed as such. Ms Fanny Ahlund, Les Mills, stated that promoting lifelong physical activity is about the long-term, and the media approach also needs to reflect this perspective. She added that we all have a part to play in shaping the media’s landscape to show diversity, inclusion, and genuine engagement.
Lifelong Physical Activity is a key focus of the Slovenian Presidency and Council Conclusions on the topic will be published later this year.