Well-being from exercise A proposal for a national policy programme on physical activity for older adults in Finland

Elina Karvinen, Pirjo Kalmari, The Age Institute, Finland
Kari Koivumäki, Ministry of Education and Culture, Finland

Bridging the gap between science and practice,
3rd conference and 7th annual meeting of HEPA Europe
11.-13.10. 2011 Amsterdam, Netherlands

Finland is one of the fastest ageing countries in Europe. Health exercise has been a central theme in national exercise policy but the exercise counseling and activities have previously not been guided by a specific programme. That is why the advisory council for health-enhancing physical activity suggested a national policyprogramme on physical activity for older adults in Finland. The task was given to the steering group of the national Strength in Old Age programme (2005-2014).

At the same time the EU-funded PASEO project (Physical Activity among Sedentary Older People) was launched in Finland with the similar aim in 20 countries. The PASEO project participated in the preparation of the Finnish policy programme.

The target group of the policy programme included 60+ people with lacking physical activity from the following groups: 1) retiring persons, 2) independently living 75+ persons with early problems of mobility, and 3) persons with diminished functional capacity living with home care, in service homes or in institutions. The programme aims to increase physical activity by combining everyday activity and exercise activity individually or in guided goups. Individuality is a starting point of the programme.

The policy programme is based on what we know about the exercise behaviour of Finnish older adults, new international exercise recommendations, the significance of exercise environment and trained supervisors, and ethical issues. Based on background surveys, we already know that older adults are physically active in their everyday lives but they do not actively perform strength and balance exercise. Recommended guided exercise or exercise counseling are not readily available. The organizers of activities do not have sufficient knowledge of each other, and exercise services lack coordination.

The suggestions of the policy programme are directed to decision-makers and various actors on national and local levels. Proposals for development and responsibility are offered to six areas: 1) cross-sectorial cooperation and division of responsibilities, 2) exercise environment and conditions, 3) exercise counseling and activities for older adults, 4) public awareness, attitudes and skills, 5) dialogue between research and development, and 6) coordination, evaluation and follow-up of the programme.

The successful execution of the policy programme requires the commitment of decision-makers and the cooperation of actors. The policy proposals will start a round of comments in the summer of 2011 and, based on the comments, the action will take place in the autumn of 2011.