May 25, 2021

Interview with Winfried Banzer, Professor of Sports Medicine at Goethe University, Frankfurt

Hi, please shortly introduce yourself and your role within EUPAP project.

I am Winfried Banzer, Professor of Sports Medicine at Goethe University, Frankfurt. I have been involved in activities at the crossroad of physical activity, exercise and medicine for many decades now. I am both a physician and exercise physiologist by training, so this area of interest is a logical combination of my expertise in both fields.
Besides teaching, research activities and medical practice I also had various voluntary positions in organized sports in Germany, both at federal and regional level in one of the federal state of Hessia for 30 years now.

One of the first joint achievements of the German Federal Medical Chamber and former German Sports Federation (now German Olympic Sports Federation) was the establishment of the quality Seal SPORT PRO HEALTH in 2000. The Quality Seal is a certificate, which is awarded for sports courses that fulfill specific quality criteria. This was a milestone in the development of quality assured exercise courses for the general public with the explicit aim of maintaining and improving health. In the following years, we have also developed an exercise scheme, which is now established in many federal states in Germany. Therefore, we already have good initiatives and structures established in Germany, however there are many challenges as well.

The EUPAP project is an excellent opportunity for us to further develop and improve what we already have and try to fill the gaps.

Could you present some of your recent activities regarding Swedish PAP method implementation in your region?

We have been working on the establishment of a prescriber network in and around Frankfurt. Our experience shows that many physicians are very interested in counseling their patients about physical activity on prescription program. We are now in regular exchange with these physicians, providing them with materials that might help in their daily work. Since lack of time is a major barrier in daily practice, we also give them practical information that they might not have time to look for themselves.

We also provide them with scientific literature on physical activity on prescription and specific health issues. Our most recent newsletter summarized the emerging evidence on the protective effects of physical activity and fitness against severe Covid-19 symptoms, a most relevant topic!

Besides the prescriber network, we regularly engage with our existing contacts in organized sports, academia, and other professional groups, such as the Sports Federation of Hessia and Exercise is Medicine Europe.

In addition to that, we also conduct trainings on a regular basis. We regard training as a major investment in sustainability of physical activity prescription. Knowledgeable professionals are key in assigning physical activity the role it should have in health and wellbeing, especially in the medical curriculum, which unfortunately is not the case today. So far, we have trained students of physiotherapists and sports scientists, as well as physicians.

Also, we were actively involved in the organization of the Sports, Medicine and Health Summit 2021, which hosted the 49th Congress of the German Association for Sports Medicine and Prevention. I had a talk in an interdisciplinary symposium dedicated to physical activity prescription. The symposium was very well attended, which shows a high interest of many professionals in the topic. The Summit was an extremely valuable opportunity to forge new alliances and intensify existing cooperation and networks.

Currently, we are preparing the next congress in mid-June, where a symposium on prevention will be held. I will deliver a talk on physical activity and health, also in context of the pandemic and the lockdown.

What were the main obstacles/challenges you faced when implementing EUPAP activities during pandemic?

There are many challenges, since the lockdown measures affect almost all areas of life.

First, healthcare is generally speaking in a Covid-19 mode, which means that less focus is on non-Covid and non-emergency cases. After a few months of more or less “normality” in the summer, situation is becoming increasingly critical again. Starting mid-April, about 2/3 of family physicians are also part of the vaccination campaign, which is excellent, on the one hand because vaccination rates can be increased. On the other hand, vaccination is time consuming. Altogether many resources in health care are bound up directly or indirectly in the containment of the virus.
The second major challenge is that we have been in a lockdown for almost 6 months now, and all sports and exercise facilities have been closed with minor exceptions since November 2020. This makes almost all organized activities impossible. Our survey conducted in the first lockdown shows that generally speaking people moved less than before the lockdown. Currently, most experts think that physical activity levels have further declined. Our data also show that at least during the first lockdown, digital exercise offers were only used by a minority on a regular basis. Although these offers are very welcome, however they cannot compensate the lack of in-person classes and leisure activities such as swimming pools.

Do you have any recommendations for other EUPAP partners on how to overcome the challenges in PAP implementation due to Covid-19 based on your previous experience?

This pandemic is a fundamentally new situation, so it is very difficult to draw on previous experience. The point is rather to make adjustments and try to find new solutions. The first lockdown in Germany in 2020 lasted about 2 months. As mentioned, we have now been in the second lockdown for 6 months, which is an extremely long time. Many people are weary, and find it increasingly difficult to cope with the daily challenges of homeschooling, working from home etc.
At the same time, many stakeholders have reacted relatively quickly and have set up digital offers, which have become more and more professional by now. This way, we have been able to offer many trainings and continue with our networking activities. Even large scale events, such as the Sports, Medicine and Health Summit I mentioned previously was held digitally.
We have also conducted a survey and found out that a large number of sports clubs offer digital exercise classes also for non-members. For example, the Hessia State TV channel broadcasts a live exercise class from a sports club every morning. At the same time, we have to remember that exercising at home alone can be very challenging for many. Even those, who are highly motivated miss their friends from their sports clubs and training classes.
The situation in other EUPAP countries might be different, but for us it means that we should keep the ball rolling, even if the challenges are big.

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