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Finland revamps exercise guidelines to recognise health benefits of housework

New national guidelines on exercise say every minute counts.

Siivooja imuroi.
Cleaning counts in the new Finnish recommendations on exercise. Image: Mika Moksu / Yle

Finland’s freshly-minted guidance on exercise levels recognise that even small amounts of exercise have health benefits, removing a previous recommendation that exercise lasts at least ten minutes.

The guidelines, produced by the state-funded Urho Kekkonen Institute, now emphasise that every minute of movement is important.

“All exercise counts, whether it lasts a minute or ten minutes, said the Institute’s Director Tommi Vasankari.

The new recommendations include provisions for lighter forms of exercise, such as houswork, going to the shops or other everyday activities.

“For one reason or another, for example health reasons, not all of us can manage strenuous exercise,” said Vasankari. “That’s why we emphasised that based on research and facts, light exercise has positive health effects.”

New guidance:

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Image: Lasse Isokangas / Yle

Recommendations for working-age people are based on the need for sufficient sleep, which helps the body recover from stresses and strains to which its subjected.

There’s also a recommendation that sedentary spells should be broken up. Many adults now spend long periods sitting at their desks, on the sofa or in a car, and that time should be minimised.

More precise guidance isn’t offered in the guidelines, but the rule of thumb is that people should take a break from sitting down whenever they can.

“You should lift your bum out out of the chair a few times an hour,” said Vasankari. “Breaks activate the muscles and reduce the load on the body.”

The guidance on lighter forms of exercise is to undertake it ‘as often as possible’. Research shows that those who don’t exercise that much will get significant benefits from lighter forms of movement.

“Starting from improvements in mood to improvements in blood sugar and fat levels, lower blood pressure and so on,” said Vasankari.

Those capable of sweatier workouts have similar advice to before:

  • Moderate exercise counts as when performing the activity your breathing is faster but you can still talk. Those capable of it should get at least two and a half hours of such movement each week.

  • If the activity is so taxing that talking is difficult, that counts as strenuous exercise. An hour and fifteen minutes of that each week is enough.

  • In addition to aerobic exercise, it is good to exercise specific muscles and movements. That can be done through strenuous gardening or yard work, lifting weights, ball games or group exercise classes.

The new pyramid-like guidance replaces the previous ‘exercise pie’, which had been in use for a decade.

The new recommendations are based on research and adjustments to guidance in the US which emphasised that even small amounts of exercise have health benefits.

The just-published Finnish recommendations are intended for people aged 18-64, but the institute intends to write new guidance for other groups as well.

According to Vasankari exercise habits among working-age Finns have changed over the years. They now exercise slightly more than they used to outside work, but move less at work and on their journeys to and from work than they did before.

“If everything is counted together, then probably the total amount of exercise has declined,” said Vasankari. “But we can change directions with this new guidance.”

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