Sarah Wellbrock (29) is a former professional swimmer and now holds a law degree. Her crowning achievement occurred during the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo: Sarah Wellbrock won the bronze medal in the 1,500-meter freestyle category. We spoke with her about what could be done across Germany to encourage people to exercise more, and what role the Olympics might play in that regard.
Hello, Ms. Wellbrock. Only a small portion of the adult population in Germany (22.6%) fulfills the current recommendations for physical activity. Why is the level of physical activity in Germany so low?
I think there are a number of things at play here. Everyday life has become increasingly stressful, leaving ever decreasing amounts of time for sufficient exercise. Add to that the fact that numerous cities offer no exercise programs at all, or that such programs are steadily shrinking, because there simply aren’t any specialists to be found. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye with regard to this issue.
What incentives do you think need to be offered to make exercise and sports more attractive again?
I’m not exactly sure what all of the health insurance companies offer these days, but I think offering various “reward systems” would be a good way to encourage people to exercise. For example: Most insurers only cover osteopathic treatments on a pro-rata basis. It might be a good idea to use a digital system to record the time spent on physical activity – for example, walking, cycling, swimming – and to pay 100% of the costs of individual treatments if the appropriate milestones are reached. It goes without saying that my example is broken down to the essentials and is only intended as a starting point.
In that context, how important are swimming pools for sports and, beyond that, for the general health of the population?
Swimming pools are particularly important for those who want to learn how to swim. That includes children as well as teenagers and adults. The number of people who cannot swim is on the rise, and the pandemic definitely contributed to that development. Being able to safely move around in water is essential for survival, and good technique is not required for that.
There are also people who want to exercise but are unable to do so “on land” due to problems with their knees or backs. Water provides a gentle environment and takes stress off the joints, thereby making it an important option for society as a whole.
For everyone else, it’s a great way to add variety to their regular sports routines.
How can the Olympic and Paralympic Games help Germany get moving once again?
If the German population has a chance to experience the excitement of the Olympics, to see how athletes give their all – their heart and soul – for this one competition, and how much joy the Games bring, we will be able to engage people, get them excited about the various sports, cast a spell of the Olympic Games on everyone, and make the Olympic fairy tale a tangible experience.
You, an expert in your field, are a participant in our talk on the subject of sports and health. What message would you like to convey in that regard?
Since I come from a water sports background, I would like to draw particular attention to how important water safety is. Swimming accidents and death by drowning as a result of someone’s inability to swim should be prevented as much as possible. That is one of my biggest concerns.
Beyond that, swimming is probably the healthiest sport. It requires the simultaneous use of multiple muscles, it is easy on the joints, it can be a great counterbalance to daily work, and the change of medium makes it the best way to exert a great deal of energy and then fall into bed in the evening, satisfied and exhausted.
By no means are sports magical cures, but I am convinced that they can make us happier, more satisfied, and more self-confident. Last but not least, sports, in a nutshell, are social. They allow you to meet new people, share a laugh, and have a bit of fun.