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For community cohesion and social inclusion

Physical activity and health

Sport plays a vital role in improving overall health, and reducing the impact of many other health-related conditions.

Importance of exercise

Regular exercise and engagement in sport is crucial for staying physically and mentally fit. Sport activities help tackle weight and obesity issues, and play an important part in preventing or reducing the impact of many other health-related conditions.

Apart from the individual health benefits, there is also evidence of the positive direct and indirect economic effects of participation in sport and physical activity. Research shows that a large number of people across Europe are not engaging in exercise. Lack of exercise and engagement in sports activities has a serious impact on general health, the rates of preventable diseases, and the number of premature deaths.

An excessively high level of physical inactivity was reported in the last Eurobarometer on Sport and Physical Activity.

There are also serious social and economic costs related to physical inactivity. While the obligation to of legislating Health-Enhancing Physical Activity (HEPA) lies with Member States, the Commission is able to support, coordinate and complement national actions.

How the EU promotes physical activity and health

in order to encourage the development of effective policies in the Member States, the majority of activities in the field of sport now focus on implementing the Council Recommendation on promoting health-enhancing physical activity (HEPA) across sectors.

That Council Recommendation establishes the collection of information and data on HEPA levels and policies, and are based on the EU Physical Activity Guidelines. Commission activities therefore argue for strengthening cooperation between stakeholders - EU Member States, the World Health Organization, and civil society.

The Commission has highlighted positive developments in its report on the implementation of the Council Recommendation on HEPA. Among these developments were the adoption of many new policies and action plans, as well as the strengthening of cross-sector cooperation at national level.

In addition, the Commission supports Member States and civil society by commissioning studies, examples of such studies. Examples of the effectiveness of these policies can be seen with the report on the implementation of the EU Physical Activity Guidelines and a study on physical activity at the workplace. The Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture (DG EAC) has included the promotion of HEPA as one of the priorities of the Erasmus+ programme.

The Commission also hosts initiatives that promote being active. Launched in 2015, the European Week of Sport (EWoS) coordinates numerous activities to build active engagement in sport. Events under the initiative take place every year between 23 and 30 September.

Further, in September 2017 the Commission launched the Tartu call for a healthy lifestyle. The Tartu call aims to promote healthy lifestyles in Europe, in particular among children.

The future of physical activity and health

The Commission will continue to support the Member States in implementing the Council Recommendation on HEPA at national level – and to promote the functioning of the associated monitoring framework.

Under the Erasmus+ programme, support for projects, events, and measures to strengthen the evidence-base for policy and for dialogue will continue, with a particular focus on activities to support the further implementation of the EU Physical Activity Guidelines.

The Commission took stock of progress made in implementing the Tartu Call for a Healthy Lifestyle during the closing months of 2019. As a follow-up to the Tartu Call for a Healthy Lifestyle, the HealthyLifestyle4All initiative is the European Commission’s two-year campaign that aims to link sport and active lifestyles with health, food and other policies.

In late 2023, the European Commission and the World Health Organisation Regional Office for Europe signed a joint contribution agreement, strengthening a collaboration established in 2015, which supports EU Member States to develop, implement and evaluate policies to increase levels of health-enhancing physical activity.

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