In Europe, almost all of us have heard about the health benefits of physical activity. We all should know by now that physical activity improves our cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness and benefits our bones and functional health, it should not be new news to anyone. So if we know all this, why there is still a lot of people who do not exercise enough for their health?

Author: Sara Suikkanen

The World Health Organisation WHO defines physical activity as “any bodily movement produced by skeletal muscles that requires energy expenditure. Physical activity refers to all movement including during leisure time, for transport to get to and from places, or as part of a person’s work”. WHO has also released physical activity guidelines for different age groups to help us have the correct amount of physical activity to gain health benefits from it (World Health Organization 2020). The guidelines are fairly simple: For adults aged 18 to 64 years, the recommendations are for at least 150 minutes at moderate, or 75 minutes at a vigorous intensity of aerobic physical activity during a week; muscle strengthening exercises at least two times a week and replacing the sedentary time as much as you can, by being physically active during the day.

Even though, the health benefits are well known and the guidelines are quite straightforward, they are not widely met in the European population. According to the results of the Eurobarometer (European Commission & Directorate-General for Education 2022), at least 1/3 of Europeans do not meet these guidelines and this poses a real threat to the Europeans’ well-being. Males seem to be a bit more active than females. The results also show that with ageing the number of people doing, at least once a week, some physical activity or sports is declining.

At the same time, non-communicable diseases (NCD e.g., type II diabetes, hypertension, and coronary heart disease) are more prevalent in the older age groups and physical activity is a big part of their prevention and treatment guidelines (World Health Organization 2014). This is worrying as the health care costs per year, are increasing with age, while the last years of life are the most expensive (Papanicolas et al. 2020). It is a well-known fact that for example in Finland the population is getting older as people tend to live longer than previous generations, and at the same time, the birth rate is getting lower. This is worrying for the society’s economy. Being physically active, people could have an impact on the global economy. By meeting the physical activity guidelines persons could decrease the risks of NCDs, the need for health care and the costs caused by them.

So if we know all this, why we are physically inactive?

During my presentation, at the“International Seminar Day on Commercializing Sports Innovations” in Lahti on April 2024  I asked the audience “What prevents you from being more physically active? What is your excuse?”  The audience consisted of working-aged consortium members from the INnovation ecoSystem for Healthy Active People in Europe (I3-INSHAPE) project, representatives from sports, vitality and technology-related companies and persons interested in commercialization of sport and wellbeing technology. The questions could be answered with their smartphones using the Mentimeter website.

And the results where interesting. The most common answer was time. Some of the answers were also related to time such as other commitments, work and family. The answers also included injuries or just being “lazy”, as an excuse to not being physically active. The answers were in line with the broader questionnaire among citizens of the 27 EU countries as the five most common reasons to not be more physically active or practice sports according to the Eurobarometer (2022) are: 1)  not having time (41%), 2) lack of motivation or not interested (25%), 3) having disability or illness (14%), 4) already doing sports regularly( 10%), and 5) too expensive (10%) (Eurobarometer 2022).

Where to find time?

To be able to be more physically active, you need time to do so, and it is always a trade-off for something else. Our lives have many aspects that need our time and energy, for example, work, relationships, family, and basic needs such as eating, and sleeping. So if you are not physically active because you don´t have time what could you do? What are you ready to giveaway to have time to exercise? The most obvious answer to this could be sedentary time, which we could be traded for a more active lifestyle. Sedentary behaviour can be defined as “any waking behaviour characterized by an energy expenditure ≤1.5 metabolic equivalents (METs), while in a sitting, reclining or lying posture“ (Tremblay et al. 2017). This includes tasks such as working or playing in front of the computer, sitting in the car, watching TV on the sofa etc. By changing for example shorter car rides to walking or cycling you could decrease your sedentary time and increase the time you are physically active.

The recent changes in the working culture after COVID-19 have also introduced us to a lot of online meetings. As they increase our screen time those meeting also provide us with another way to decrease our sedentary time. As many of these meeting you could access via your smart phone and instead of sitting and listening passively in front of your computer, you could attend your remote meeting via Teams or Zoom by your smart phone while you are walking outside. Not only how we attend our meeting or travel to work, but also the way we play videogames could give us a possibility to decrease our sedentary time. Tech companies have introduced us to the exergames which give us a great opportunities to be more active when we are gaming. These exergames immerse you in the game and allow you to be, for example,  a ski jumper or a slalom skier while you are moving and jumping in front of the screen instead of sitting passively on the sofa with a controller.

It takes effort to go through trouble to find ways to add more movement to working-aged people´s busy schedules. We need innovative and motivating solutions that we can afford to help us achieve a more active lifestyle easily in our busy lives. There are already many innovative SMEs that have good technological solutions to increase vitality among Europeans. The I3-INSHAPE project (co-funded by the European Union), in which the LAB University of Applied Sciences is a partner, has a mission to increase interregional collaboration inside Europe to support and speed up the market launch of the needed technological innovations of these SMEs, to promote a healthier and more active lifestyle for us all.


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Sara Suikkanen, PhD, works as a Chief Specialist at the LAB University of Applied Sciences in the Faculty of Health Care and Social Services. She is part of the Physical Activity and Functional Capacity Research group and is involved in the INnovation ecoSystem for Healthy Active People in Europe (I3-INSHAPE) project which is co-funded by the European Union.

Illustration: (CC0)

Published 14.5.2024

Reference to this article

Suikkanen, S. 2024. Care for Health to be Inshape – Why we are not physically active? LAB Pro. Cited and the date of citation. Available at