Only less than half of adults engage in enough physical activity, staying up late and insufficient sleep have become more common

Publication date 26 Oct 2023

Less than half of men and women aged over 20 reached the current physical activity guidelines for health-enhancing physical activity. Forty-six per cent of men and 38 per cent of women reached the physical activity guidelines.

The recommendation for health-enhancing physical activity covers physical activity at work, on the way to and from work, and during free time. The recommendation is met by engaging in weekly physical activity that 

  • raises the heart rate for at least 2 hours and 30 minutes or by doing vigorous physical activity for at least 1 hour and 15 minutes, and
  • maintains muscle strength and movement control at least twice a week.

The oldest people are the least physically active: 31 per cent of men and 23 per cent of women aged 75 and over meet the recommended amount of physical activity. Men aged 20-39 were the most likely to meet the physical activity recommendations, of whom 52 per cent engage in sufficient physical activity. 

However, it is positive that three out of four Finnish people report they engage in some physical activity in their free time. At the level of the population, this corresponds to more than three million active people. In their free time, they walk, cycle, fish, hunt or do light gardening, for example. However, a significantly lower number of adults meet the recommendation for health-enhancing physical activity.

Time spent in front of a screen reduces the amount of physical activity. Forty-five per cent of men and 39 per cent of women sit in front of a screen more than three hours a day in their leisure time. 

“Physical activity maintains work ability and functional capacity. It is good that the importance of physical activity has been understood in our society and, for example, different ways to encourage people to be physically active have been included in the government programme,” says Senior Researcher Jouni Lahti. 

“Physical inactivity leads to health problems and increases healthcare and social welfare costs. From the point of view of public health and the national economy, it must be ensured that people have equal opportunities to engage in exercise and physical activity. Particular attention should be paid to those with a low socio-economic status and older people,” Lahti continues.  

The results are revealed by THL’s Healthy Finland Survey, which was carried out in autumn 2022 and spring 2023. 

In addition to the results for physical activity, we now also publish results for sleep and eating habits. 

“These aspects of lifestyle should be paid attention to at the same time in health promotion work. Physical activity, sleep and nutrition form an entity: a healthy change in one of these three is reflected in the other two,” says Senior Researcher Niina Kaartinen.

Insufficient sleep and staying up late more common

The amount of sufficient sleep is individual. According to recommendations, an adult should sleep between 7 and 9 hours each night. However, about 20 per cent of adults think they do not get enough sleep. Insufficient sleep is most common among people aged 40–54, of whom just under one third sleep too little. 

One fifth of both men and women are night owls. The proportion of night owls is the largest in the age group of 20–39-year-olds, in which just under one third are night owls. 

Both insufficient sleep and staying up late are becoming more common. 

“Staying up late is often linked with insufficient sleep. The daily rhythm can be made more regular by following a meal pattern and doing physical activity either in the morning or in the afternoon. This improves sleep, reduces the sleep debt and is likely to promote health,” explains Research Professor Timo Partonen.

One in three adults eat fish at least twice a week

According to recommendations, fish should be eaten 2–3 times a week. Only one third of men and women reach this target. 

Older people eat fish in accordance with the recommendations more often than people in younger age groups. Just under one half of those aged over 75 have fish 2–3 times a week, while only 24 per cent of men and 17 per cent of women aged 20–39 have fish at least twice a week. 

Older people also have wholemeal products such as wholemeal bread, porridge or cereal supplement more often than people in younger age groups. Sixty-five per cent of men and 72 per cent of women aged over 65 eat wholemeal products at least once a day, while 36 per cent of men and 51 per cent of women aged 20–39 eat wholemeal products daily. 

“The nutrition recommendations emphasise the importance of vegetable products and fish in the diet. Eating sustainably caught and farmed fish is beneficial not only to health but also to the environment. Wholemeal products in turn help to secure the fibre intake and are a good source of nutrients and vegetable protein,” Niina Kaartinen explains.

Good nutrition choices can be supported in many ways. Key methods include improving the meals offered by catering services, developing food education and talking about food positively in society.

Results of the Healthy Finland Survey will be widely reported during the autumn

A total of 61,000 randomly selected persons aged 20 and over from different parts of Finland were invited to the questionnaire section of the Healthy Finland survey. Of those invited, 10,000 also received an invitation to a comprehensive health examination. A total of 28,000 people (46% of those invited) responded to the questionnaire and 5,700 (58% of those invited) participated in the health examination. The research sample was formed so that the results can be generalised throughout Finland. 


Physical activity and sitting, online report (in Finnish), Results of the Healthy Finland Survey

Sleep and sleeping, online report (in Finnish), Results of the Healthy Finland Survey

Eating habits, online report (in Finnish), Results of the Healthy Finland Survey

Healthy Finland online reports (in Finnish) 

Further information:

Jouni Lahti
Senior Researcher
tel. +358 29 524 7226
[email protected]

Timo Partonen
Research Professor
tel. +358 29 524 8859
[email protected]

Niina Kaartinen
Senior Researcher
tel. +358 29 524 7384
[email protected]

Healthy Finland Survey 

Results of The Healthy Finland Survey 

Previously about the study:

Healthy Finland Survey: One in five adults have had to compromise on food, medicines or doctor’s appointments because of lack of money, THL Press release 5 Oct 2023. 

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