Health promotion and sports experts: we will feel the true extent of the pandemic in a few years

What impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on health and physical activity? Has the focus on protection from infection made us forget the physical activity necessary to maintain good health? How has the health sector changed and what do experts predict?

These issues were addressed in a virtual discussion organized by Lithuanian Sports University (LSU) “The Health Sector during the Pandemic: Needs and Possibilities”.  Linas Obcarskas, Vice-Minister of the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport (ŠMSM), Vidmantas Šiugždinis, President of the Lithuanian Association of Fitness Clubs, Laurynas Dilys, Head of Kaunas District Municipality Public Health Bureau, LSU Rector Prof. Dr. Diana Rėklaitienė, LSU Assoc. Prof. Dr. Kristina Poderienė and Dalius Barkauskas, doctor of sports medicine took part in the discussion on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on health and physical activity.

In the discussion, Prof. Dr. D. Rėklaitienė noted that the attitude of sports and health policymakers is a major source of concern for both scientists and health professionals.

“In fact, challenges in the health sector should be discussed not only during the pandemic, and we should remember what it was like before it. We have said many times that this sector lacks attention. The pandemic has further exposed the problems that exist. Research and surveys show that no age group in our society is as physically active as it should be. The pandemic has fully affected the health sector. We will be able to see the consequences in a few years, but we will feel them for a very long time,” said D. Rėklaitienė.

According to the Rector of LSU, the pandemic exposed the biggest problems in the health sector. It turned out, there are not many people in Lithuania who know how to be physically active or have the necessary facilities. Moreover, the consequences of isolation caused by the pandemic are becoming more pronounced – many people are at risk of obesity, and the negative effects of physical inactivity on the mental state are being felt.

“I want to emphasize that the impact of the pandemic is felt not only by the health sector but also by athletes. Studies conducted with elite athletes indicate that good results are determined by psychological readiness. For most athletes, the problems caused by the pandemic will have a long-term negative impact,” said D. Rėklaitienė.

Dalius Barkauskas, a long-time doctor of the Lithuanian Olympic team, was categorical and spoke about sometimes irrational political decisions that lead to reduced physical activity of people during the pandemic.

“I think that in Lithuania, most of the decisions are not discussed enough. In Belgium, for example, schoolchildren are allowed to go to schools. Has anything terrible happened because of this? Nothing. Schools are working and the physical and mental health of children is protected. What about Lithuania? Psychotherapists’ offices are overcrowded. Physical health is deteriorating. There are a lot of spine problems, let alone many others. Has anyone considered what the consequences of all this will be in a few years, what will happen to our younger generation, and other age groups?” said D. Barkauskas.

The renowned medical doctor named other problems caused by the pandemic and its mismanagement. “The health system is in appalling conditions. Over the last seven years, we have developed a team of professional sports coaches who have accumulated a wealth of experience. In other words, they began to make a positive impact on society, presenting the importance of health, and the consequences of harmful habits. Now we are losing these professionals, as they are engaged in other activities,” added the doctor of sports medicine.

LSU Assoc. Prof. Dr. Kristina Poderienė spoke about the restrictions on movement applied in Lithuania during the pandemic, which reduced the physical activity of the society.

“Very often there is confusion between healthy physical activity and any physical activity. Even while sitting, a person is physically active because the body has to maintain the position. Is it healthy? The World Health Organization has stated that prolonged sitting is as harmful as smoking. It is often thought that any movement is healthy physical activity, but one does not think about health,” said Assoc. Prof. Dr. Kristina Poderienė.

The Vice-Minister of Sports of the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport of the Republic of Lithuania L. Obcarskas assured that projects are being initiated that can help the sports and health sectors.

“The health sector has been hit very hard by the pandemic. We see that there have been no funds for a long time. Elite fitness clubs, which had planned their activities from the funds received, suffered damage. We are initiating various programs. We must concentrate and look for solutions together not only now, but also after the quarantine ends,” said L. Obcarskas.