Let’s get moving !


“The Helsinki Programme is conceived as a means of reintroducing physical activity as a natural part of everyday life, everyday practices and habits.”


City of Helsinki

A case study from the City of Helsinki

Physical inactivity in the headlines – what is the story?

With urbanization and technological and digital development, everyday activities can be done effortless without physical activity, getting out of breath or breaking into a sweat.

Physical inactivity is known as the fourth most significant risk factor of premature death creating also numerous other problems both for individuals and the community.

This alarming assessment of physical inactivity is made at a time when a growing proportion of residents of Helsinki engages in at least some sports or exercise. Also, the percentage of people that do no recreational sports or exercise has steadily decreased. Finnish people also actively engage in outdoor activities. Up to 80-90% of children and young people say they engage in at least some sports or exercise.

The increase in recreational sports and exercise has not been nearly enough to guarantee sufficient physical activity to maintain health. Only a fraction of people in Finland and Helsinki get enough physical activity to support their health. Reasons for this are variable. Currently, Finnish people spend most of their waking hours sitting or lying down. Everyday, physical activity has markedly decreased. Recreational exercise is strongly polarised between individuals, escalating the health inequalities related to socio-economic factors in particular. Results also show that projects and strategies aimed at promoting physical activity often engage those who are already active.

The current operating models have proven to be insufficient in reversing this trend.
Influencing people’s lifestyles is always difficult but it is especially challenging when it comes to physical activity. The challenge is to replace the physical activity that previous generations accumulated naturally through work, travel and obtaining food with physical activity for which there is no immediate necessity or motive.

The Helsinki City Strategy highlights the promotion of physical activity as a spearhead project – the Physical Activity Programme – which broadens the perspective from promoting exercise to promoting physical activity and reducing sedentary time.

From severe consequences to personal benefits

There is great variation in Finland in terms of engaging in recreational exercise, active commuting and fitness exercise, particularly based on socio-economic status. Age, gender, marital status, place of residence and ethnic background also account for large differences in recreational exercise. The reasons for not engaging in exercise can also be related to individual factors, experiences and values.

There are strong scientific grounds for promoting physical activity more effectively. Physical activity generates value in terms of well-being, physical and mental health as well as the environment and sustainability. It contributes to strengthening social networks and human relationships and has economic and overall monetary impacts as it positively influences work performance and work ability. The growing awareness of well-being and health can also be seen in the growing demand for new kinds of services, conditions, business activities and digital innovations.

Tackling “how to do” instead of “what to do”

Although residents of Helsinki engage in more recreational exercise than people in Finland on average and the situation in Helsinki is better than the national average in terms of many health and well-being indicators, the City of Helsinki is taking promotion of physical activity seriously. Physical activity is being integrated into the City of Helsinki’s basic operations, budget planning and divisional targets as part of the promotion of well-being and health.

Instead of pondering what should be done, the City of Helsinki’s Physical Activity Programme focuses above all on how it should be done. The actions of the Physical Activity Programme are targeted at the overall system, community and environment, as well as the individual level.

Influencing physical activity, applied (GAPPA, WHO)

Over the next three years, approximately 60 actions will make physical activity a visible part of the everyday lives of residents. The action plan will be developed and updated constantly. Indeed, it can be assumed that, once the programme starts, some of the actions will be merged together, some will be abandoned altogether or something completely new will be created. Regular interaction between the City of Helsinki’s divisions will create broader actions and initiatives that cross divisional boundaries. By 2021, the promotion of physical activity should be a conscious and natural part of the daily activities of the City of Helsinki.

City of Helsinki as a guide, a promoter and a platform

Influencing a physically active lifestyle involves two aspects: personal choice and opportunities. Ultimately, each individual makes choices based on their lifestyle and habits. Through its own operations and active partnerships with organisations, communities, companies, clubs and research institutes, the City of Helsinki creates conditions and incentives for the opportunities of residents to make physically active choices both in everyday life and leisure time. The creation of an influential and effective ecosystem requires a sufficiently comprehensive understanding of the factors affecting physical activity from the perspectives of conditions, services, instruction and guidance.

Physical activity is the common cause of the entire City of Helsinki and is promoted in a bold and innovative manner. Each division of the City of Helsinki is responsible for tasks that either directly or indirectly affect the preconditions for the physical activity of Helsinki residents. The City Executive Office, along with the Culture and Leisure division, Social Services and Health Care division, Education division and Urban Environment division, regularly interact all together in order to create broader actions and initiatives that cross divisional boundaries.

Independent physical exercise accounts for the majority of all physical exercise

The premise of the programme is that the City of Helsinki should function as an active platform for actors and the self-motivated activeness of residents. This is important because promoting physical activity has not conformed to administrative boundaries for a long time and there is no clear distinction between the public, private and third sectors. There is growing interest in the programme among companies, associations, researchers and international partners. City of Helsinki’s partners include sports clubs, media, government, research, companies, NGOs, sport tech and event organisers.

City of Helsinki ́s partners

Mayor Jan Vapaavuori challenged city employees to climb stairs at The Exercise Day of Your Dreams

Targets and actions 2018–2021

Based on a sound data-based analysis on how and how much Helsinki residents engage in physical activities, the City has identified 8 target areas:

1. Helsinki residents understand that everyday physical activity is more important than exercise

2. Physical activity is the common cause of the entire City of Helsinki and is promoted in a bold and innovative manner

3. The entire urban environment and the range
of sports and culture services encourage and
entice people to be physically active

4. Young children have the basic skills and habits required for physical activity

5. Sufficient physical activity is part of the everyday life and learning of children and young people

6. Employees of the City of Helsinki shall be more physically active and sit less during their workdays

7. The everyday activity of older people shall increase as their differentiated needs are taken into account

8. Physical activity shall be better utilised than at present in the prevention and treatment of illnesses and rehabilitation. Actions shall be targeted at resident groups with special support needs

Monitoring progress through specific indicators

The City of Helsinki’s Executive Board monitors the programme by means of three strategic indicators:

  • Percentages of physical activity and sedentary time during the waking hours of Helsinki residents (motion measurement data by age group and gender)
  • Children’s physical capacity (Move! measurements in fifth and eighth grades)
  • Percentage of people engaging in recreational exercise

A realistic estimated timeframe for achieving more permanent changes in the physical activity behaviour of Helsinki residents is within approximately five years of the start of the actions. The programme takes into account the following: the guidelines of the Helsinki City Strategy; key research, monitoring and assessment data on the physical activity of different age groups; and the current situation regarding the City of Helsinki’s activities regarding physical activity, including their strengths and main development needs. The programme also offers an opportunity to create a new perspective for the evaluation of the long-term impact of physical activity with regard to, for example, the state of health, work and functional capacity, learning results, and social and mental well-being.

The Physical Activity Programme is a pilot project in its promotion of health and well-being. It is conceived not as a recreational exercise programme but rather as a means of reintroducing physical activity as a natural part of everyday life, everyday practices and life habits. By 2021, the promotion of physical activity should be a conscious and natural part of the daily activities of the City of Helsinki. Each of us is free to be active!


The city bikes in Helsinki are the world’s most popular city bikes. Helsinki was compared to cities such as Paris, Barcelona and Copenhagen, which is particularly known for its cycling culture. The indicator of popularity used in the study was utilisation rate, meaning the number of daily trips per bike. In the cycling season of 2018, more than 3 million trips were made with the city bikes and the number of city bike users amounted to nearly 50,000 in the Helsinki metropolitan area, Espoo included. Thanks to the expansion of the system and the extension of the metro line, the popularity of the city bikes increased from 2017, when 1.5 million trips were made in Helsinki alone.

Minna Paajanen Project Manager