Former top athlete, Professor Ingo Froböse, is one of the most renowned advocates of an integrated approach to promoting healthy practices. As professor at the German Sport University Cologne and Head of the Centre for Health, he’s a specialist in prevention and rehabilitation. In addition to activities as a researcher and lecturer, he’s also a scientific adviser to the German Bundestag and a number of different health insurance companies and social services. For more information contact:
Gyms and spas are booming and corporate health management is gaining importance – but health complaints, particularly in office-related work, are on the increase. From a scientific standpoint, why is that?
The main reason lies in muscular and skeletal complaints. Backs are affected particularly frequently. Over the past few years, the number of mental illnesses is also noticeably on the increase too. Reasons are the rising number of changes in the immediate surroundings and stress at work. But above all, it’s the rapid pace of communications that’s putting pressure on the people affected. In addition to muscular and skeletal complaints and mental illness, obesity is also increasingly dramatically – in children and young people already. On the other hand, the fixation with being thin is also much talked about with regard to girls and young women. Is there a template for how people’s disposition and their habits regarding physical activity and diet should interact?
As is so often the case, the solution to the problem lies somewhere in the middle. Energy supply and consumption must be equally matched. A happy medium is absolutely fundamental. But there’s no catch-all solution. Equilibrium is very personal and depends on the genetic predisposition of the individual, as well as the metabolic rate. There’s often a significant imbalance. The problem’s not that we should eat more, in fact the contrary. We also now have extensive knowledge about diet. The problem is burning calories. We burn a lot fewer calories than we should. But in the long term that’s another problem looming on the horizon. Because the low level of calories we burn has a negative effect on our metabolic rate. This is then comparable with an engine that gets smaller and then starts to stall. We’re then trapped in a vicious circle.
“It’s better to be a bit chubby and fit than slim and unfit” – in many articles you suggest that activation and stimulation are the keys to fitness and a feeling of well-being. From a former top athlete we would have expected you to call for more sport – what’s the difference? One thing I have realised is that top-level sport is not a universal panacea for all ills. Because 85 per cent of people are not attracted by the range of sport available today at all. Important is the fitness of the body as a whole and not just one part of it. It’s not beneficial at all if a vaulter can only jump and a sprinter can only sprint. All systems in a state of harmony is the key. That’s what I believe is most important.
Why in your experience do even health insurance companies find it difficult to implement concepts that encourage more physical activity in their own offices? Who do we have to approach and persuade in order to achieve the long-due volte-face?
Often it’s your own backyard that you clear up last. And the same goes for health insurance companies. They indeed discovered the benefits of corporate health-boosting programmes. But not necessarily for their own gain, but as a marketing concept. The importance of these programmes is vastly underestimated by health insurance companies. As a result, they don’t practise what they preach. And to answer the second question, physical activity is an issue that applies toall areas of society. As a result, you can only achieve these changes if all parties involved have a stake in them. What’s required are clear-cut role models and top sport is the very place they shouldn‘t be drawn from. I also believe that in order to develop a joint strategy, working groups are required that go above and beyond the limits posed by government ministries. Taxes should be deployed to fund the programmes and not health insurance companies’ revenue. Finally, I believe that a major campaign, comparable with AIDS campaigns, is imperative. This is the way to create a new communications strategy.
Do you think that taking a quantum leap or small steps make more sense as regards generating changes in attitude? What role could furnishings, organisation and buildings play in the process? First of all, small steps and big leaps are not a contradiction in terms. They can both be juxtaposed. Numerous small steps have already been taken. What‘s currently missing is the link in between. An overall strategy and a concept need to be put in place. Workplaces, homes and lifestyles play a key role as backdrops. One thing I have learnt is that in order to encourage people to engage in and with physical activity you have to approach them in their current environment.
And finally, what are you working on at the moment? What are your goals? As a researcher, over the last few years I’ve been looking at minimal levels of activity. In other words, how little activity is needed to cover the basic requirement for physical activity? I hopefully know all there is to know now about managing training. Researching minimal levels of activity is now my goal. In other words it’s a question of telling people at some point to what extent, and perhaps even at what time of day, they should engage in physical activity. Personally that won’t be very much, but for the majority of people quite a lot. I hope that when I retire I’ll know the answer to this question.