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15.06.2016 - Ausgabe: 3/2016

The 2016 movement study by Techniker Krankenkasse: about physically active and inactive people


The Federal Republic of Germany is split: half of the population is not practising any sports at all. This is the main conclusion of the 2016 study: "Get moving, Germany!" presented by Techniker Krankenkasse (TK) in Berlin.

According to their findings, half of all German citizens are physically active albeit at different levels of intensity, whereas the other half describe themselves as not really into sports or non-athletes. And: Those who are not very enthusiastic about sports also tend to move less in their everyday life and usually handle even short distances by car, take the lift instead of the stairs and rarely go outside. The movement study shows that people in Germany - in a literal sense - are sitting their everyday life out. Peter Wendt, responsible for surveys at Health Insurance Company TK, says: "Four out of ten people questioned predominantly carry out seated activities in their everyday working life. And apart from this, they even spend on average 3 hours of their daily leisure time seated."

Sports psychologist Prof. Dr Jan Mayer from the German University for Prevention and Health Management who inter alia used to take care of the professional footballers of TSG 1899 Hoffenheim (a German football club) says: "Most people know that if they practised sports, it would be good for their health." But according to the survey, every other respondent says that they lack the necessary motivation for doing sports. The incentive to live a long and healthy life seems more abstract than the obvious thought of spending the evening on the couch. The study data have shown that more than 40 per cent of the people questioned, of the young adults even 55 per cent, prefer to spend their end of the work day on the couch. "It is always easier to cope with a task, if we see the purpose of it", so the sports psychologist. The motivations for doing sports seem to be quite different: health, a nice figure or to make up for the stressful everyday life. Almost six out of ten interviewees said that they would become more active to avoid health complaints. Financial support from the health insurance company (33 per cent) or from the employer (21 per cent), improved career prospects (15 per cent) or critical partners could also be incentives for regular physical exercise. But: 15 per cent of the people questioned say that nothing of all this could motivate them to do sports.

And this has tremendous consequences for health. An analysis of absence rates due to sickness, also conducted by TK, shows that the standstill within society has already had a significant impact on health. In 2015, TK-insured persons in firm employment were, on average,15.4 days on sick-leave. This corresponds to a sickness rate of 4.23 per cent, the highest rate since the beginning of the TK health reporting. Based on a sickness rate of 3 days per capita, the largest part is attributable to diseases of the locomotive systems. TK Manager, Dr. Jens Baas commented: "The diseases of modern society, such as back complaints, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases are increasing. Already one out of seven 18- to 39-year-old persons said that they were under regular treatment due to an acute or chronic illness." Therefore, Baas called for an open discourse about the social consequences.


A statement by Dr. Jens Bass, Chairman of the Board of Health Insurance Company Techniker Krankenkasse given on the presentation of the 2016 movement study in Berlin on 13 April 2016.

This year, for the third time after 2007 and 2013, the Forsa polling institute has again surveyed a representative cross-section of our population about how much physical exercise people do or if they do not do any at all, what exactly deters them from doing it. We have asked the interviewees for new trend sports, about their current situation regarding sports within their everyday life and after work and, of course, how healthy they are. Why are we doing all this? Our lifestyle - what we eat, how we work, how much attention we pay to a good work-life-balance and how much physical exercise we do - has a direct impact on our health. It is our responsibility as health insurance organisation to care for peoples' health and to support them so that they remain healthy for as long as possible. Therefore, it certainly makes sense to have a close look at the way they live.


Every other person has an active lifestyle

To begin with the good news: Although those people who consider themselves as not into sports or non-athletes, or in other words the inactive part of the population, had still been the majority in 2013, our study shows that today those who are active have won back the majority.  Exactly 50 per cent of all people surveyed said that they do regular sports, even though at different levels of intensity. But even this slight uptrend does not change the fact that our republic is split into two parts: into those who exercise regularly and those who do not do any physical exercise at all. One fifth of the people questioned who do regular sports, consider themselves as hobby or high-performance athletes. A further 30 per cent are - according to their own statements - occasional sportsmen, doing about 1 to 3 hours of physical exercise a week. The World Health Organization WHO recommends a minimum of 2.5 hours of moderate sports practice a week. With much goodwill one might say that this is managed by about half of the population.

According to the WHO, the meaning of moderate sports practice is to get out of breath and have an accelerated pulse while doing exercises. It may also be helpful to go for a walk quickly around the block with the dog.  But it seems that even the motivation for such an everyday activity is missing.

We all know the useful advices, e. g. to take the stairs instead of the lift, to get one stop early off the bus and to walk the last bit or to go to work by bicycle. This is all very useful and important. But according to the study, those people who do not enjoy sports, not only avoid physical exercise, but also the different everyday movements. Usually, the non-athletes travel more often even short distances by car and spend their leisure time after work on the couch. The consequence is that every third person does not even indulge in half an hour of physical activity over the day, another third just under one hour. Nevertheless, more than 40 per cent of the interviewees said that their everyday life was very stressful. Therefore, they prefer to spend their time after work on the couch. Among the 18 to 39-year olds it is even more than a half of them (55 per cent).


What are the reasons for this inactivity?

The main reason is the lack of motivation. Every other person, i.e. an increase of another five percentage points compared to the last survey, is unable to muster up the energy to practise sports.  Another reason often mentioned by about 45 per cent of the people questioned is the lack of time. That is what 45 per cent of the respondents say. So, where do we find the 150 minutes, i.e. an average of 21 minutes a day, we need to keep well and fit according to the WHO?


A movement diary reveals time wasters

As far as a healthy diet is concerned, experts recommend to those who are willing to lose weight to keep a food diary and to write down what they are eating and drinking during the day. It is important for them to become aware of how man hidden calories they are consuming and to find out which calories could feasibly be omitted and what could be a healthy substitute instead. I am convinced that this would also be a helpful way to improve our movement behaviour. In contrast to Michael Ende's Momo, it is not the grey men who are trying to steal time from human beings but the TV screens with their coloured pictures. In statistical terms, every one of us is watching TV about 3 hours a day. And every fifth German citizen is watching television for 5 hours a day or even more. Although the television screen itself is not hazardous to health and the digitalisation even helps us to save a lot of work, one of the consequences is that our radius of action is permanently shrinking.

According to the study, further reasons against everyday activities are health problems, family responsibilities and - last but not least - bad weather, which by the way, seems to have dramatically worsened since our last survey in 2013.  In 2013 it was only 21 per cent of the people questioned who did not do sports for climatic reasons whereas according to our current study this value has increased to 34 per cent. But obviously, there is nothing we can do about it.


What is the motivation of active people to practise sports?

What we can, however, do is to talk about what the active people are motivated by to live an active life. Health and fun are the main reasons for doing sports which applies to all age groups. Sports as a good balance to a stressful everyday life is in third place, but loses some of its relevance in the course of people’s working life. In the same way, the idea of competing with others is becoming less important as people grow older. Vanity, or the desire for a good figure, is especially important for young adults between 18 and 29 years. Not even one in ten says that it is important to get feedback and recognition from others, whereas among the younger adults this motivation was named twice as often compared with the average of all people questioned.


Digital self-assessment as a lifestyle attitude

For many people, fitness has become a lifestyle attitude. The number of running events has increased, the fashion and food industries are interested in sports and athletes and for many people, digital self-assessment has become as self-evident as the daily dental hygiene. Contrary to this, there are other people who take the exactly opposite view. And it is of course their right to do so. In the survey, every seventh (14 % of respondents) told us, that they use a digital training aid, e. g. a pulse watch, a smartphone app or an online coaching, incidentally, one of our service offers. Contrary to what might be expected, it is not only the young people who use digital training support. Up to the age of 60 years, an average of 17 per cent of adult people use a digital training assistance while they are practising sports. Only from the age of 60, the number of these people decreases to 6 per cent.

Based on the results of the survey, the majority of the people questioned are mainly using digital training aid devices for sports-related reasons. Two thirds of them want to keep track of their training success and half of the respondents want to secure a healthy workout.  Only three per cent said that they were publishing their training success in social networks. At least, almost half of them are convinced that they are doing more physical exercise because they use a fitness tracker. This shows that digitisation does not necessarily lead to physical passivity.


The term locomotive system seems to become out-dated.

As a health insurance company, it is not for us to tell people what to do or not to do. However, more than nine million clients have given evidence of the impact of healthy or unhealthy lifestyles.  Since the beginning of our health reporting we have registered an increasing sickness rate among the working population. As shown in the overview, last year the professionally active people were on sick-leave for an average period of 15.4 days. Back pain is in second place on the list of the most common causes for illnesses. According to our survey, more than 30 per cent say that they suffer from frequent or permanent back pain. Hence, it is not surprising that people who have physically demanding jobs are more often affected by back pain (40 per cent).  But even more than one third (36 per cent) of those with predominantly seated activities, is suffering from back pain. That is why in view of this study the term locomotive system seems out-dated.


Conclusion: There is no more time to waste!

So what are we to do? We need a social movement focused on encouraging and motivating people to practise sports, and that without a moralising undertone.  Therefore we have 5 points at the very top of our to-do list.


1. Attractive digital offerings

We must address those who can be attracted by good preventive programmes. On the one hand, this applies to individual prevention. Apart from interesting training programmes at the place of residence, we must expand our offerings of digital e-coaching, which may be integrated easily into the individual everyday life routine of our clients. This also includes supporting the motivation and valuing the achievements of those who enjoy sports and self-assessment. Instead of focusing on the "one fits all" attitude, which has been practised within the health prevention sector over many years, we need some motivating and attractive interactive gadgets, which should also be fun.

2. Bring health awareness into the companies

What is at least equally important is our commitment to health management programmes in companies. Because there, we can also support those employees who would not come to us on their own initiative and can directly focus on their work burden and the health resources in connection with their workplaces. In this field, a lot has happened over the past few years. A great number of companies have realised that the improvement of healthy working conditions for employees is a good investment. Our movement study also shows that significant progress has been achieved in this field. But still every one of four employees remains without any company fitness programme.

3. Promote the natural need for physical activity at a young age

The findings show that the course for a more or less active way of life is set at a young age and that it is a question of lifestyle. This means in effect, we must start early to promote the natural need for the physical activity of children and youngsters and show them that regular exercise leads to a much better and healthier life. This is a challenge equally for schools, childcare facilities, sports clubs and also for municipalities, which must provide the respective infrastructural conditions.

4. Reduce disincentives in the health-care policy

Our health care system also needs incentives to promote health. Simply administering illness must become less attractive. Regarding the financial compensation, it currently seems more attractive for almost everybody within the health care system to focus on illness instead of focusing on health. But it is a sick system, if nobody cares for the healthy people.

5. Social debate

We need an honest dialogue about how we can deal with the fact that, despite all our efforts, there are still a lot of people we cannot attract. It is not for us to tell people what to do and what better not to do. However, it can be anticipated that lifestyle-related diseases are increasing. This trend has an impact on the health care systems and the society, which has to shoulder the financial costs of the system. And it has an impact on the economy and companies, which also have to assume the costs connected with the increasing sickness rate.


Photo: Techniker Krankenkasse

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