“Sport, games and excitement” – that’s the Froböse formula for our Olympic bid

To mark World Health Day on 7 April, we spoke to sports scientist and health expert Prof. Dr Ingo Froböse about lack of exercise and its consequences, as well as possible measures and impetus from the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Ingo Froböse in his seat in the stands at ASV Köln.
Ingo Froböse in his seat in the stands at ASV Köln. © Sebastian Bahr

Only a fraction of the German population gets enough exercise. Why is that?

In fact, depending on the age group, 85-90 per cent of people in Germany do not get enough exercise in accordance with the guidelines of the World Health Organisation. On the other hand, we now have average sitting times of 9.5 hours a day. The lack of exercise is even more serious among children and adolescents, with only 6-7 per cent of 14 to 17-year-old girls getting enough exercise.

There are many different reasons for this. The development clearly shows that the importance, presence and naturalness of sport, as well as our everyday movement, are in a constant state of flux and seem to be suffering greatly under the influences of the dynamics of our working world, digitalisation and social media. It would make sense to counteract this with a cultural change, but so far this has not taken place in kindergartens or schools through the teaching of skills, nor in other settings such as the workplace or public spaces, where there is a lack of adequate opportunities to encourage exercise and active regeneration. Increasing electromobility, which is certainly to be favoured for ecological reasons, is also exacerbating the problem of physical inactivity, because scooters, scooters, e-bikes and the like are increasingly replacing health-promoting means of transport. Without targeted, cultural and infrastructural countermeasures, I assume that our avoidable progress will continue to drastically reduce activity and exercise behaviour.

On your blog, you write that all the comfort we have today comes at the expense of our health. What consequences can this inactivity have?

According to statistics, around 4.5 million people worldwide die every year as a result of lack of exercise. As a secondary result, a large number of different diseases such as type 2 diabetes, numerous diseases of the heart and circulatory system, metabolic diseases, degenerative diseases of the brain as well as some forms of cancer can occur. This “culture” has far-reaching social and economic consequences: Children and young people are not sufficiently encouraged and activated in their growth process and, in our increasingly ageing society, people become ill and in need of care much earlier. For me, lack of exercise is therefore one of the main causes of most civilisation-related illnesses and therefore influences the performance and productivity of our country’s society. It also costs everyone valuable quality of life!

What needs to change in sport in Germany and beyond to get us moving more again?

In order to successfully counteract the lack of physical activity in Germany, a variety of approaches are needed, orientated towards the different target groups. Starting with the youngest children, there is no question in my mind that (early) childhood education is needed to teach regular exercise and sports routines by focussing on and firmly anchoring the joy of sport and exercise in nurseries, primary and secondary schools. In view of the many positive effects on health and development through well-developed movement skills, sport motor skills and sport routines, my great wish for the future of children would be to make sport a main subject! Hardly any other school subject has such a far-reaching and lasting effect on the quality of life and health of children and young people, both physically and mentally.

In order to counteract the lack of exercise in adulthood, I believe that preventative approaches are the right way to go. For example, by employers assuming joint responsibility for the health of their employees, by offering sports and exercise programmes through cooperation between companies and local sports providers to facilitate access to recreational sports. If cities and local authorities were to recognise the urgent need for action and locate sports facilities centrally and prominently rather than on the periphery, this could also send out a valuable signal to people. It is also not clear to me why sports facilities are only open a few hours a week, given the ever-increasing lack of exercise and its far-reaching consequences for the individual, our society and our economy. The right solutions should not just be about getting people moving, but in particular about bringing movement back to people spatially and inviting them to become active through an activating environment and infrastructural framework conditions. Unfortunately, the mobility concepts of recent generations have consistently and successfully neglected this.

Could activation measures such as the “Trimm-dich” movement of the 1972 Games or the “Active City” concept from the Hamburg 2024 bid be a key to getting the German population moving in the long term?

I was still able to experience the “Trimm-dich” movement live and was already very enthusiastic about the spirit that was transported into our entire society through the associated activities. And so I am particularly pleased that the city of Hamburg has managed to activate and mobilise an entire city with its concept. We urgently need similar concepts and strategies in our municipalities and communities across the country, which are supported by several federal ministries in the long term and practised sustainably. At the same time, I would like to see role models from all walks of life and peer groups who set a good example and inspire people with their lifestyle and infect them with the exercise virus. Organising major sporting events alone, such as the upcoming European Football Championship, will unfortunately not lead to our society becoming more active in sport. This requires motivating role models and inviting concepts across the board that are designed to be sustainable and integrated into people’s living environments.

Which health aspects must be taken into account in a future application concept? What is your “Froböse formula” for a German Olympic bid?

Sport and exercise are essential for each and every one of us and for the performance and health of our society. For the individual, this food harbours many positive aspects such as the development of personality, values and social skills. At the same time, sport unites, it overcomes borders and barriers and develops social structures that unite and harmonise. If we were to realise this immense potential, we would have the chance to create a healthier and happier society.

Germany urgently needs the Olympic Games to make sport and exercise, an essential cultural asset of our society, more accessible and approachable for everyone. Perhaps even to bring about social change – as was made possible by the 1972 Games in Munich. A sporting jolt went through the entire country, which then led to the trim and fit campaign mentioned above. “Sport, games and excitement” – that’s the Froböse formula for our Olympic bid.