Sports and preventative health promotion as a strategic focus for the municipality 

Having active and healthy residents is a goal that no Finnish municipality can afford to compromise on.

Exercise and physical activity do not only maintain and promote physical health, but studies show they also have a positive impact on mental health. Good mental health promotes wellbeing and learning, maintains the ability to work, and reduces health care costs. Mental and physical health are important resources when maintaining a good ability to work and study. This should be acknowledged by prioritising the promotion of different kinds of low-threshold opportunities for exercise in the municipal decision-making.

When promoting sports services and opportunities for exercise, it is also important to consider equality and accessibility. These can be promoted through the choice of locations and different kinds of discounts, and by offering services in Swedish and English as well as Finnish.

The Finnish Student Sports Federation (OLL) wants to challenge all municipalities to make exercise and preventative health work their strategic focus in the upcoming term.

At its best, preventative health promotion can be an essential part of the municipalities’ range of health care services, and no cuts should be made in this area even though there are no signs that the current economic situation will improve anytime soon. In order to take on this challenge, the municipalities must promote the following solutions:

SOLUTION: We must develop the conditions for city cycling and widen the city bike route network – cycling is excellent incidental activity for all residents, including students

In Finland, the promotion of walking and cycling is focused particularly on building new infrastructure, but the quality of our infrastructure is nowhere near what you can find in the top European countries.

Cycling conditions must be improved by building new routes, and by maintaining and repairing existing cycle paths. The cycle paths should be separated from the pavements, and the routes should be clearly marked. Cycling must also be made possible all year round by maintaining the routes, because cycling to work or university is an affordable method of transport which comes with added health benefits.

Urban areas need designated authorities that are responsible for creating and coordinating the local marketing for cycling, building a varied cycling culture, and improving cycling services. These services can include bike racks which allow safe locking through the frame, bike maintenance stations, and city bikes.

During the past few years, city bike networks have been a great success in both large cities and small towns.

A high-quality city bike network offers all local residents an excellent and financially accessible option for cycling and incidental exercise. Stations should be located at or near all campuses and student housing.

Promoting cycling and improving cycling conditions in municipalities is also an excellent endeavour from a sustainable development perspective, and it promotes physical activity and a method of transport which benefits the entire society.

SOLUTION: Sports Near You – Build outdoor sports facilities close to campus areas and student housing, where they benefit both students and local residents

For a long time, the main focus of the development of exercise conditions in Finland has been a principle of exercising locally, which means that the likelihood of doing sports and being physically active is increased by good and accessible exercise facilities that people have access to in their daily lives.

In future, facilities for year-round outdoor exercise with a low threshold should be built near campuses and student housing. Outdoor exercise facilities near student housing provide opportunities to exercise for students on low incomes and of limited means, but also other local residents and people enjoying the outdoors.

Almost all Finns (96%) do exercise (Ministry of the Environment, 2014), so developing varied exercise facilities are an efficient way to promote a physically active lifestyle.

During the past few years, some municipalities have cooperated with universities and other stakeholders (e.g. foundations for student housing) to build excellent local exercise facilities on or near the university campuses to serve both the university communities and local residents and families.

Modern local exercise facilities can include things like accessible and high-quality outdoor gyms and equipment, as well as playing fields and mini-stadiums, which are suitable for many different kinds of users.

When a modern local exercise facility is also equipped with proper lighting and a sound system, this allows groups to organise many kinds of events.

When building exercise facilities the wishes and opinions of the target groups, such as the students, should be heard. This is possible e.g. via the universities’ student unions.

SOLUTION: Municipalities should take students into account with discounts on and rent for sports facilities

University students should be viewed as a special economic group within the municipal sports services. University students often have access to an extremely limited amount of money each month. Those students who exercise the least should also be supported in achieving an active lifestyle.

Municipal sports services should offer students in higher education at least a 50 per cent discount on the normal fees. These discounts should cover all municipal sports services, such as pools and city bikes. Completely free themed days at the sports facilities would also be an efficient way of encouraging people to try new sports.

The Studies on the Move programme has led the most progressive municipalities to abolish all sports service charges for secondary students.

When hiring out and allocating slots in municipal sports halls, university sports (e.g. university sports services and student sports clubs) are often placed in the lowest category.

Going forward it is necessary for municipalities to treat university sports services as a key stakeholder working to increase physical activity among the young adult residents of the municipality when allocating and hiring out sports facilities. Students should have equal access to sports regardless of where they are based.

When allocating slots, the municipalities should particularly focus on the applicants’ potential users, such as number of members.

The charges for hiring facilities must take into account whether an organisation is a not-for-profit and their health-promotion work. These organisations should be given reduced rates when hiring facilities. The reduced price should be no more than half of the normal hire fee.

The premises that are rented out should be accessible and have changing facilities that offer privacy. When renovating premises or building new ones, the municipalities should also make sure to create gender-neutral facilities. All sports facilities should promote equality widely and prevent discrimination.

Key words: municipal election, advocacy, sports policy