Tekla Hahl: University sports recommendations at the core of sports lobbying

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Advocacy by the Finnish Student Sports Federation (OLL) is based on university sports recommendations that guide universities in the creation of sports services and a healthy studying environment. OLL’s vice chair Tekla Hahl studied the recommendations only to realise that she had already come across during her studies at a university of applied sciences.

The national Recommendations for University Sports were originally published in 2011. Before that, university sports had become an increasingly important part of Finnish sports culture. The government began to take a closer look at the provision of university sports services once Parliament required this with the amendment of the Universities of Applied Sciences Act and Universities Act.

However, a clear frame of reference was missing from university sports, and a change was needed. Suggested by the Finnish Student Sports Federation, an expert group for university sports was established. The group created recommendations for the development, assessment and monitoring of sports services.

The recommendations were updated in 2018. These was a definite demand for this, because research suggested that students were too sedentary – so much so that it could be seen as a health hazard. Another problem was that the recommendations were limited to sports facilities. At the Finnish Student Sports Federation’s initiative, the update working group expanded the recommendations, and two new items highlighted that promoting a more active lifestyle for university students was a task for the entire community.

I could not even imagine that we were doing pause exercises because there was a broad social movement to promote it.

Nationwide university sports recommendations were actually applied throughout my university of applied sciences studies. During my first year of study, when practically all teaching took place in classrooms, I remember one lecture in particular in the campus auditorium. The students were sitting tightly, with coffee cups in hand and laptops in front of them, when the lecturer decided that it was time for some exercise. At first, taking breaks and stretching my legs regularly seemed alien to me and required an extra effort. After all, back in my school days, we had specifically been praised the virtues of being able to sit still and listen. I could not even imagine that we were doing pause exercises because there was a broad social movement to promote it.

The second new recommendation encourages the creation of a learning and study environment that supports and promotes physical activity. Exercise must be permitted and actually encouraged during study, at the initiative of students and lecturers alike. Regular breaks should not be skipped in the interest of getting things done more quickly. Nobody should be forced to do exercise, but the opportunity should be available for everyone. The drawbacks of excessive sitting cannot be compensated by increased fitness training, which is why the two recommendations – reducing the amount of time sitting per day, and creating an environment that supports and promotes physical activity – are together effective means to improve the holistic wellbeing of students.

The key part of work by the Finnish Student Sports Federation is realised in the Higher Education on the Move activities, which are based on university sport recommendations. The Higher Education on the Move activities were started in 2020, covering higher education communities throughout the country. The Finnish Student Sports Federation provides information and produces material on university sports recommendations and the significance of daily activity to students.

We are currently working on a Higher Education on the Move scorecard for students, student unions, sports facility providers and staff. It is a new tool with which universities can monitor the realisation of university sports recommendations, and to ensure that people keep moving.

Tekla Hahl

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