Bikers in Helsinki. LEHTIKUVA

Health & wellbeing

A recent Finnish health survey, Terve Suomi, reveals concerning trends about the physical activity, sleep, and dietary habits among adults. The study, conducted between Autumn 2022 and Spring 2023, underscores growing health challenges in Finland.

Falling Short of Fitness Goals

The survey found that less than half of Finnish adults over 20 years old meet the national physical activity recommendations. Only 46% of men and 38% of women engage in sufficient physical activity. These guidelines suggest at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous activity weekly, along with muscle-strengthening exercises at least twice a week. The eldest group, those over 75, is the least active, with just 31% of men and 23% of women meeting the recommended activity levels. However, 52% of men aged 20–39 are reaching these targets, indicating better health behaviors in younger adults.

Despite the low adherence to recommended activity levels, a silver lining emerges as about three-quarters of Finns reportedly engage in some form of physical activity during their leisure time, equating to over three million people engaging in activities like walking, cycling, fishing, hunting, or gardening.

The Sedentary Lifestyle Predicament

Screen time significantly impacts physical activity, with 45% of men and 39% of women spending over three hours per day in front of screens during leisure.

Importance of Exercise

Jouni Lahti, a specialist researcher, emphasized the role of exercise in maintaining work capacity and overall well-being. "Physical inactivity not only leads to health issues but also increases social and health care costs," Lahti noted. He stressed the importance of equitable access to exercise facilities, especially for those in lower socio-economic statuses and the aging population.

Alarming Trends in Sleep and Night Habits

The study also highlighted concerns regarding sleep patterns. Although adults ideally need 7–9 hours of sleep daily, about 20% feel they don't get enough rest. This issue is particularly pronounced among the 40–54 age group. Additionally, one in five adults identifies as a night owl, a habit increasingly associated with inadequate sleep.

Timo Partonen, a research professor, suggests regulating day rhythms, including meal and exercise times, to improve sleep quality.

Dietary Insights

On the dietary front, only one-third of Finnish men and women consume the recommended amount of fish (2–3 times weekly). Older adults tend to adhere more to dietary recommendations, including fish and whole grain consumption, than younger ones.

Moving Forward

The Terve Suomi study's comprehensive findings will be reported in stages throughout the fall. With a sample of 61,000 randomly selected Finns over 20 years old, the responses reflect a significant section of the population. The study's results, incorporating responses from 28,000 participants and health examinations of 5,700 individuals, offer valuable insights for shaping public health policies and personal health practices in Finland.