7.3 Sport, youth fitness and physical activity
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The most important acts, which contain provisions on physical activity promoting health and well-being, are the Constitution of Finland, the Act on the Promotion of Sports and Physical Activity, the Health Care Act, the Local Government Act and the Youth Act. Under the Constitution of Finland, physical activity is a basic cultural right. The goal of the Act on the Promotion of Sports and Physical Activity is, as the name suggests, to promote the well-being and health of the population and to support the growth and development of young people by means of physical activity. The Act defines physical activity promoting health and well-being as “all types of physical activity in the course of human life designed to maintain and improve the state of health and functional ability of the population”. Under the Health Care Act, municipalities must include health counselling in all health-care services and arrange health checks and advice for all age groups, including young people. In terms of young people’s physical activity, the Youth Act is also important. The promotion of a healthy lifestyle is one of its objectives, and youth work and youth policy of the municipalities include sports activities for young people.
The Ministry of Education and Culture is responsible for creating favourable conditions for sports and physical activity as well as for coordinating and developing sport policy. The Ministry emphases the importance of sport and physical activity for people’s health and wellbeing as well as the role that sport and physical activity play in strengthening civil society and inclusion.
The national promotion programmes for physical activity and physical exercise, i.e. On the Move programmes, promote a physically active lifestyle for different age groups and demographic groups. The programmes are financed by the Ministry of Education and Culture. According to the On the Move strategy, measures were targeted at groups whose level of physical activity should be the greatest cause for concern and on whom few development measures have been focused. These groups included e.g. young people and families with children who are in the weakest socioeconomic position, young people at the lower secondary level, and vocational students. The strategy displayed several objectives and measures for actors at the national, regional and local levels. For more information, see:
- Families on the Move (in Finnish)
- Early Childhood Education and Care on the Move (in Finnish and Swedish)
- Finnish Schools on the Move
- Studies on the Move (in Finnish and Swedish)
- Adults on the Move (in Finnish, Swedish and English)
Central government promotes leisure activities by means of guidelines, measures and funding. Local authorities, the voluntary sector and businesses all play a key role as providers of leisure activities. The Ministry of Education and Culture aims to increase the opportunities for leisure activities for children and young people and low-threshold physical activities locally. The priorities in the Strategy for Leisure Activities are to make more leisure activities available to children during school hours and to reach those children and young people who cannot take part in their favourite leisure activities. For more information, see:
- Strategy for Leisure Activities (in Finnish)
- Promoting children’s and young people’s opportunities for leisure activities (in Finnish)
- Harrastuspassi (in Finnish)
- The Finnish model for leisure activities (in Finnish)
The National Sports Council has prepared the Reports from Ministries on Promoting Sport and Physical Activity in cooperation with the different ministries. The reports describe each ministry’s interest, objectives, measures, resources, indicators, key legislation and essential development areas related to promoting sport and physical activity. The reports cover policies on ways to increase physical activity at different stages of life, the construction of sports facilities, civic activity in physical activity and elite sports, and they were published in June 2019.
According to the School Health Promotion study, physical activity has increased among young people and the number of those who engage in too little physical activity has decreased. According to the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, 27.9 per cent of the pupils in 8th and 9th year of comprehensive school exercise less than one hour a week. The amount among the students in 1st and 2nd year of vocational school is 42.4 per cent, and among the students in 1st and 2nd year of upper secondary school 26.2 per cent (2021). According to the Finnish Olympic Committee, currently 2/3 of Finnish children do not exercise enough for their health and development, and according to estimates, approximately 70 % of children are out of reach of sports club activities organised during the school day.
As mentioned above, Finnish Schools on the Move is one of the most important programmes specifically targeted at young people, and it aims to establish a physically active culture in Finnish comprehensive schools. Schools and municipalities participating in the programme implement their own individual plans to increase physical activity during the school day. More than 90% of municipalities and of comprehensive schools (2 116 schools) are involved in the programme. According to the study made in 2018, the key results of Finnish Schools on the Move were:
- The school day’s physical activity increased and sedentary time decreased in primary school students. (Pilot phase 2010-2012, 45 schools)
- Increased physical activity during recess and throughout the school day – 4 % in primary schools and 12 % at lower secondary schools.
- More recess time spent outdoors among lower secondary school students. (Programme phase 2013–2015, 800 schools)
- The proportion of children and young people aged 11–15 years that met the physical activity recommendations increased by 5 % in boys (from 30 % to 35 %) and 11 % in girls (from 18 % to 29 %) from 2010 to 2018, based on surveys (Government key project phase 2016-2018, >2000 schools)
In 2017, the programme was expanded to upper secondary education and vocational upper secondary education and training (Student On the Move). The Student On the Move programme aimed to increase the physical activity of students to reduce musculoskeletal problems, to improve students capacity to study and work, to develop an operating culture that supports activity in educational institutions, and to increase cooperation between different actors. Altogether 227 education institutions and approximately 260 000 students joined the programme during the years 2017–2020.
The Finnish Olympic Committee started in 2016 Lasten Liike (Children’s Movement) -programme, which aims to create equal opportunity for all Finnish children to participate in accessible and high quality sport activities. The Committee promotes Children's Movement activities locally with regional sports organisations, municipalities and sports clubs and associations. The first results of the programme are, that:
- More than 1/4 of the children who took part in the activity also increased their movement outside of guided hobby activities.
- 1/4 of the children's attitude towards exercise became more positive
- 1/3 of the children involved in the activity spent more time with their friends.
- 1/7 child's school performance improved.
Children’s Movement also educates professionals, youth workers and others working in the field of youth sport activities, and creates free materials.
UKK Institute – Centre for Health Promotion Research is a private research organisation, which aims is to promote healthy lifestyle and health-enhancing physical activity through research, training and public awareness. The insitute promotes the physical activity of children and young people with various projects. TEKO – Terve koululainen (A Healthy Student) project prevents sports injuries and leisure time accidents of children and young people, and promotes physical activity at schools and during free time. The target group of the project is especially the teachers of middle school health information and physical education, the teachers of pupils in 5th and 6th grades, and school health care professionals. The Smart Moves project promotes student well-being and a physically active culture in basic upper secondary schools and vocational studies. Terve urheilija (The Healthy Athlete) project, on the other hand, promotes health-supportive sports and coaching, and applies researched sports injury prevention practices to coaching. The primary target group of the project is coaches and instructors of young athletes, while the second target group is children and young people participating in sports clubs, as well as their families.
Sport and health education are important subjects in Finnish schools, but the purpose to promote physical activity is not limited to them.
According to the national core curriculums, sport and health education are mandatory subjects in single-structure basic education and upper secondary education. According to the national core curriculum for single-structure basic education, sport in lower secondary education supports pupils’ physical, social and emotional competences. The ability to take action and in finding sports as hobbies are important emphases in classes 7–9. The teachers must take pupils’ state of health and special needs into consideration when they plan teaching and evaluates performances. Health education emphasises comprehensive understanding of health and health promotion. People skills, identity and sexuality are themes as well as prevention of illnesses, stress and crises.
Sports and health education are mandatory parts of the national core curriculum for upper secondary education as well. According to the national core curriculum, sports supports healthy lifestyle choices and well-being whereas evaluation should not be based on a level of fitness. There are two mandatory courses (1 course = 38 lessons) and optional advanced courses available. There is one mandatory health education course for everyone, and it covers the basics of health. The course deepens the knowledge gained in lower secondary education and supports everyday life management. The national core curriculum for upper secondary education was published in 2019.
Vocational upper secondary education and training does not have a common national core curriculum, which would be same for everyone regardless of qualification, but education providers follow guidelines and draw up curriculums according to them. A mandatory, competence-based study module called Maintaining working capability, sports and health education is part of studies in vocational upper secondary education and training, but its content and implementation may vary according to one’s qualifications. For example, it may be possible to carry out health education as an online course or to accept one’s free-time sport hobbies as credits in some cases. The goal is to teach skills and knowledge that young people need to maintain and develop their physical, social and mental ability.
The Cultural and Sports Association of Finnish Vocational Education and Training, SAKU, is responsible for developing physical activity among vocational students. The Finnish National Agency for Education, the Ministry of Education and Culture and SAKU have developed a professional’s work capacity pass. The purpose of the passport is to motivate students to improve their work and functional capacity on their own initiative already during their studies.
For more information, visit:
- National core curriculum for upper secondary school (in Finnish)
- National core curriculum for basic education (in Finnish)
- National core curricula available in English: here.
Several actors at national, regional and local levels have committed to the national strategy to promote physical activity. As mentioned above, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and the Ministry of Education and Culture jointly appointed the steering group for health-enhancing physical activity. Especially in terms of young people, cross-sectoral approaches are emphasised. The third sector is actively involved in the implementation of the national strategy, and schools and municipalities cooperate in this area as well. For example, Finnish Schools on the Move programme was organised by the National Agency for Education, regional state administrative agencies and various other organisations, and it was part of the Government Programme in Finland. The Cultural and Sports Association of Finnish Vocational Education and Training, SAKU, cooperates with vocational education providers, and has offered support and materials for them as part of the Finnish Schools on the Move project.