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Doctoral defence of Virpi Kuvaja-Köllner, MSc, (Health Economics), 16.12.2022: The combination of joy and investment in one’s health is a motivational factor associated with more physical activity

The doctoral dissertation in the field of Health Economics will be examined at the faculty of Business and Social Sciences at Kuopio.

A PhD study carried out at the University of Eastern Finland showed that individual factors determine physical activity behaviour. The combination of joy and investment in health as motivational factors is associated with more time spent doing physical activity. Based on the results, most people have one or two favourite physical activity hobbies which they conduct because they experience joy and pleasure during exercise, i.e., it makes them feel good. Additionally, many individuals manage to add some less pleasant physical activity into their routine purely because of the health benefits it produces.

“Afterwards, this less enjoyable exercise actually gives you an even stronger sense of achievement,” says Doctoral Researcher Virpi Kuvaja-Köllner of the Department of Social and Health Management.

“This brings us to the basic concepts of health economics. If a person experiences enjoyment from physical activity or exercise, it can be considered that physical activity is a consumption good for them. If, on the other hand, we exercise only for the possible health benefits, exercise is clearly an investment good, an investment in health. The vast majority of people, however, combine these two aspects, which is reflected in several different types of sports.”

In her dissertation in health economics, Kuvaja-Köllner examined the most cost-effective ways to increase physical activity at the population level. Based on the results, changing the conditions to favour cycling and walking is a cost-effective way to increase exercise. The study found that the use of pedometers and interventions implemented in the school environment also increased physical activity.

Individual and family-focused physical activity counselling has increased children's physical activity level

One of the sub-studies evaluated the cost-effectiveness of physical activity interventions. Children aged 6–9 and mainly of normal weight participated in the study carried out in Kuopio. With individualised and family-based lifestyle counselling, it was possible to increase children's overall weekly physical activity hours.

The intervention group had six counselling sessions, and children had the opportunity to participate in an after-school exercise club once a week during two school years.  Physical activity increased among intervention participants by an average of 63 minutes per week, while in children in the control group, physical activity decreased by an average of 38 minutes per week. The costs of the intervention were 619 euros per child over two years without the costs of parents' time use, and 820 euros per child with the costs of parents' time use.

“The cost of one additional hour of physical activity without the costs of parents' time use was 6.21 euros, and 8.62 euros with these costs included,” Kuvaja-Köllner says.

Individual factors are more important for residents’ physical activity level than the resources supplied by the municipality

As part of this PhD study, an eleven-year follow-up study was carried out, and the results showed that the increase in resources used by municipalities for physical activity does not automatically increase physical activity among inhabitants. Residents’ individual factors influence physical activity behaviour more than the resources provided. Residents who had the highest level of education and were healthiest engaged in more leisure-time physical activity than the lower educated or less healthy residents. Men engaged in leisure-time physical activity more than women, while women conducted more commuting physical activity.

The survey combined data from Statistics Finland and the Health 2000 and 2011 population surveys. This study only followed people with the same place of residence in 2000 and 2011. In this study, 3,193 people answered questions about leisure time physical activity, and 1,394 people from 110 municipalities answered questions about commuting physical activity. The indicators of the municipality's sports resources and environment were the amount of euros spent by municipalities on sports, the length of pedestrian and bicycle routes, the area of ​​parks, and the number of sports organizations that received grants in 1999 and 2010.

“This sub-study showed that in Finland the infrastructure for physical activity is already so comprehensive that simply increasing resources does not automatically translate into increased physical activity of the passive residents in the municipalities.”

According to Kuvaja-Köllner, a certain amount of enjoyment in physical activity and enabling people to find joy in physical activity might be a solution for successful physical activity promotion. In the end, it is always a single decision-maker’s choice to be physically active or not.  Well-intentioned pushing of physical activity is not a viable solution. To summarise, the results of this dissertation are useful to people who design, organise, implement, and evaluate physical activity interventions and programmes that aim to increase physical activity among individuals and in the population at large..

The doctoral dissertation in the field of health economics by Virpi Kuvaja-Köllner, MSc. (Health Economics),  entitled "Economic aspects of physical activity promotion" will be publicly examined (in Finnish) at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies of the University of Eastern Finland on 16 December 2022 at 12.00 noon in the hall MD100 of the Mediteknia building. Professor Jutta Viinikainen of the University of Jyväskylä will act as the opponent, and Professor Hannu Valtonen of the University of Eastern Finland as the custos.

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Dissertation (pdf)

More information: MSc. Virpi Kuvaja-Köllner, virpi-liisa.kuvaja-kollner(at)