Hikers in Nuuksio National Park in Espoo in October 2020. The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) has reported that less than half of adults in the country engage in physical activity in accordance with guidelines, which recommend at least two-and-a-half hours of activity that raises the heart rate or an hour and 15 minutes of vigorous activity a week, in addition to at least two sessions that maintains muscle strength and mobility. (Jussi Nukari – Lehtikuva)

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FEWER THAN HALF of Finns aged 20 years or older engage in physical activity in accordance with activity guidelines, reveals a study carried out by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).

THL on Thursday reported that 46 per cent of men and 38 per cent of women satisfy the weekly recommendation for at least two-and-a-half hours of physical activity that raises the heart rate or for an hour and 15 minutes of vigorous physical activity, and activity that maintains muscle strength and mobility at least twice a week.

Adherence to the recommendation was the highest among 20–39-year-old men, at 52 per cent, and the lowest among the elderly, at 31 per cent for men and 23 per cent for women.

Three-quarters of the participants reported, however, that they engage in some physical activity in their free time, such as cycling, gardening or walking.

THL estimated that screen time reduces the amount of physical exercise, highlighting that 45 per cent of men and 39 per cent of women reported that they sit in front of a screen at least three hours a day in their free time.

“Physical inactivity leads to health problems and increases health care and social welfare costs. From the point of view of public health and the national economy, it must be ensured that people have equal opportunities to engage in exercise and physical activity. Particular attention should be paid to those with a low socio-economic status and older people,” said Jouni Lahti, a senior researcher at THL.

THL also highlighted that both staying up late and getting insufficient sleep are both becoming more common in Finland.

One-fifth of Finns also reported that they do not get the recommended amount – of 7–9 hours a day – of sleep. Not sleeping enough, the study found, is common particularly among 40–54-year-olds, fewer than one-third of whom indicated that they sleep less than seven hours a day.

A fifth of both men and women are night owls, the share being the highest – almost 33 per cent – among 20–39-year-olds.

“Staying up late is often linked with insufficient sleep. The daily rhythm can be made more regular by following a meal pattern and doing physical activity either in the morning or in the afternoon. This improves sleep reduces the sleep debt and is likely to promote health,” advised Timo Partonen, a research professor at THL.

The study also found that older people are more likely than young people to abide by dietary recommendations.

While nearly half of 75-year-olds and older said they have fish two to three times a week, the share dropped to 24 per cent among 20–39-year-old men and to 17 per cent among 20–39-year-old women. The elderly are also more likely to consume wholemeal products than young adults, with 65 per cent of over 65-year-old men and 72 per cent of women saying they eat wholemeal products at least once a day. The corresponding share among 20–39-year-olds stood at 36 per cent for men and 51 per cent for women.

Niina Kaartinen, a senior researcher at THL, reminded that efforts to promote public health should pay attention to each of the three lifestyle aspects addressed in the study: nutrition, sleep and physical activity.

“Physical activity, sleep and nutrition form an entity: a healthy change in one of these is reflected in the other two,” she stated.

The questionnaire section of the survey was distributed to a total of 61,000 randomly selected, over 20-year-old people across Finland. A little fewer than half, 28,000, of the people filled in the questionnaire between the second half of 2022 and first half of 2023.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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