COVID-19 severely impacted the ability of individuals to be physically active while also underlining the importance of physical activity for mental and physical health. Because of this, the World Health Organisation is organising a series of eight webinars on ReINVENT & ReBUILD – Working together for a stronger and fairer physical activity and sport system for all. The first webinar took place on 27th May 2021, and EuropeActive had the privilege of taking part, with Executive Director Andreas Paulsen and Anna Szumilewicz , EuropeActive Deputy Director- Standards, as featured speakers.
In her introductory speech, Dr Fiona Bull, Head of the WHO Physical Activity Unit, explained that these webinars are there to celebrate the health aspect of sport, but also its cultural and socio-economic dimension. The pandemic had an important impact on sport and physical activity, and we must learn from it and use it as an opportunity to build forward in a better way.
Subsequently, speakers presented their views on the challenges and opportunities brought by COVID. Steven Ward, GOfit Chief Transformation Officer, highlighted the importance of physical activity for society. EuropeActive Executive Director, Andreas Paulsen, explained that EuropeActive has worked with its members throughout the year to discuss the impact of COVID, how to transform the challenges faced by the sector into opportunities and its ambition to further emphasize the role of physical activity as a public health solution. Anna Szumilewicz went on to explain that EuropeActive has developed several educational standards as it is important to address everyone’s needs to enable everyone to be physically active. The digitalization of our sector was also mentioned, as its use increased during the pandemic. This was agreed upon by Hugo Braam, Virtuagym CEO, who added that technologies helped people to stay active during the pandemic with livestream videos, online classes and coaching, or apps. However, fitness operators have a specific expertise that cannot be replaced.
The health dimension of exercise was then discussed. Dr Jürgen Steinacker, Chair of European Initiative for Exercise in Medicine, stated that it is now well known that exercise is beneficial for individuals’ health, yet some people are cautious about it. He suggested that exercise professionals should be involved in the medical consultation process. Anna Szumilewicz used EREPS as an example to say that doctors can find exercise professionals that would fit patients’ needs. Finally, Andreas Paulsen emphasized that health is becoming increasingly central in our sector and that it is important to improve and act as a public health solution in order to appeal to everyone.
In her concluding remarks, Dr Fiona Bull underlined the growing recognition of the importance of the health dimension of physical activity in the sport and physical activity sector. This topic will be further discussed throughout the series.