Lithuania promotes physical activity and heart health in a collaborative community bicycle event

WHO/ Francesco Zambon

Extending bike paths in Lithuania is promoting active transport and heart health.

On World Heart Day, 29 September 2015, WHO recommends increased physical activity and exercise to live longer in good health and to reduce mortality from noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), such as heart conditions, obesity and diabetes.

Lithuania is promoting heart health. On 18 September in Kaunas Lithuania, Government leaders, members of nongovernmental organizations and representatives from the WHO European Region partnered in a cross-collaborative bicycle event to promote physical activity and reduce NCDs. The community event spread awareness about life-long healthy lifestyles through a 10-km cycle ride, the unveiling of a bicycle sculpture and a presentation to the community about the physical activity policies of the local government. The plan is to increase the current bike route to 300 km by 2020.

The participants included local mayors and community leaders, including Professor Irena Misevičienė, President of the Lithuanian Association of Health-promoting Hospitals Network and a focal point for the Regions for Health Network. The Mayor of Kaunas Region, Valerijus Makūnas, gave a compelling presentation linking health benefits with the environment, tourism, development and financial investment in infrastructure. The Vice-Rector of the Lithuanian University of Sports, Albert Skurvydas, also described the benefits of physical activity and its implications in everyday life. The city then unveiled the plan to extend the bicycle circuit.

Countries in European Region adopt strategy to promote physical activity

The event came at the end of the annual governance meeting for Member States in the WHO European Region, held in Vilnius, Lithuania. At that meeting, countries adopted a strategy to increase physical activity throughout the Region. Daily physical activity and reducing sedentary habits play a significant role in decreasing health challenges and disease. 

To improve heart health and decrease NCDs, WHO recommends reducing physical inactivity by 10% by the year 2025, contributing to achieving three other health objectives in the same timeframe: 

  • a 25% reduction in the risk for premature death due to heart disease, cancer, diabetes and respiratory disease; 
  • a similar reduction in the prevalence of high blood pressure; and
  • a halt to the dramatic epidemics of diabetes and obesity. 

The issue extends beyond health into a whole-of-government approach to improving lives. Urban planning in many European cities is a critical means of ensuring daily physical activity, as people often live far from their work or have few cycle paths, pavements or parks. The culture of work and education must change in order to recognize the importance of physical activity and encourage people to go to their schools and offices by active transport – on foot or by bicycle.

WHO/Europe has designed a special "health economic assessment tool" (HEAT) for calculating the economic benefit of physical activity. The tool translates hours spent cycling or walking into years of life saved and into reductions in medical and general costs.

The initiative in Lithuania is a strong example of intersectoral collaboration at local level to improve the lives of citizens by offering safe, healthy options for work and play, thus reducing health risks and improving well-being.