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Can The Olympics Inspire Us To Take Control Of Our Health And Wellbeing This Time Round?

19/08/2016 17:03 | Updated 19 August 2016

In recent years, the concept of wellness has become a popular phenomenon in Western health and fitness culture. But wellness is far from a new idea. While the 1st century Greeks were competing in the Ancient Olympic Games, the Romans were espousing a holistic concept of 'mens sana in corpore sano' - a healthy mind in a healthy body. They understood that wellness is so much more than the hedonistic approach to fitness. It's an inclusive emotional approach to living well. It's about the person, not the muscle groups.

Despite this growing wellness trend, worldwide, obesity has more than doubled since 1980, with 1.9 billion adults overweight, of which over one third are classified as obese. Sadly, this number includes 42 million children under 5. That's more than the total number of children under 5 in the US, UK and Brazil combined.

Yesterday while millions tuned in to watch elite athletes as young as 13 strive for gold, the UK government released its long-awaited Childhood Obesity Strategy. And while we'll have to wait to judge its effectiveness, it's clear that the health of our populations will remain a major concern for generations to come.

As the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics come to a close, I believe there is an opportunity to capitalise on the global excitement, revamp attitudes towards wellness and inspire communities across the world to be more engaged in their health and wellbeing.

As the official fitness equipment supplier to the Rio Olympics, Technogym has access to data from the 15 Olympic training centres where so far these athletes have run more than 150,000km, cycled over 200,000km and lifted more than 500 million kilogrammes as part of their training routines. Looking at this in the context of scientific studies considering the link between physical activity and life expectancy, we estimate that the Olympic athletes have so far extended their lives by an average of seven years.

Undoubtedly, for the average mortal, it's difficult to keep up with that. But even at a mere mortal level, our ancestors used to walk 30 kilometres a day to get food and water while today we average less than 1 kilometre to achieve that. Given the growing body of evidence that shows wellness - not just fitness - can help address major issues that are burdening our health systems and economies globally, the question is: why are we not taking action?

I believe we need to bring wellness into the mainstream - from the domain of a small group of elite athletes and fitness fans to the entire global population. We need to make it easier for people to prioritise their health and wellbeing and show how they can make small but effective changes in their everyday lives.

I've spent a lifetime studying the Italian model of wellness, a cultural movement that combines regular exercise and a balanced diet with a positive mental attitude. We Italians are often perceived to have a monopoly on good living. But all the healthy food in the Mediterranean cannot compete with the rise of desk-based working and convenience food with obesity in Italy also climbing.

So it was in Italy, in a region called Romagna, where a cultural experiment began in 2002. With the involvement of businesses, government, schools, parks and individuals, the world's first wellness district was created- Wellness Valley. Its approach is to create the social and cultural conditions that gently encourage individuals to choose a healthy lifestyle on a day-to-day basis.

With over 250 stakeholders from across the community, the Wellness Valley project has seen the development of over 60 best practice examples of healthy lifestyle initiatives such as programmes in schools countering childhood obesity, free physical activity in public parks for active aging, university degrees, and exercise programmes prescribed as part of treatment for major chronic diseases.

As a result of these efforts, the activity level of the population has improved by 10% compared to the rest of the country.

These results show that individual motivation is not enough. Making it easy for people to choose wellness in every part of their daily lives - at work, travelling, socialising, at home and in the gym - is the only way to reverse the rising global obesity trend.

I see wellness as a social opportunity for everyone. An opportunity for governments to reduce health service costs, for companies to stimulate their employees to be more creative and productive and for all citizens to improve their health and daily lifestyle. Investing in wellness means investing in the economic future of a country.

The Olympics, which celebrate movement and the human body at its peak physical state, is the ideal time for everyone to re-think their attitude to wellness. To achieve health and wellbeing, we must move more. Rather than just watching amazing athletes achieve great things, let the Olympics inspire us to move.

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