With its Sports, Health and Social Integration Program, Fondation de France is mobilizing to combat the sedentary lifestyle and make physical activity a tool that can improve quality of life. An innovative approach that is gaining ground.
Getting yourself to move means taking action to improve your health. There are physical benefits, both preventative and therapeutic, but also mental ones. Athletic activity is a precious ally of well-being. That said, for reasons that include a lack of sports facilities in the French provinces, changes in our way of living and more recently, the Covid-19 pandemic, a sedentary lifestyle is making significant headway. So much so that today the World Health Organization (WHO) considers physical inactivity the leading cause of avoidable death. In France, a recent study by the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety showed that as much as 95% of the French population does not do enough physical activity to protect their health.
To combat the inequalities that surround the practice of sports and help vulnerable populations to take care of their health, Fondation de France is taking action through their Sports, Health and Social Integration Program, which has two main components. The first, Femmes et sport, vers un nouveau départ! (Women and Sport – For a Fresh Start!) encourages practicing adapted sports, such as karate or dance therapy for women made vulnerable because of life or violence par des femmes fragilisées par la vie ou victimes de violence. The second component of the program, Sports and Health in Disadvantaged Regions Program aims to integrate physical activity into health strategies for sick people. A truly therapeutic, non-medicinal tool, sports can be highly effective for improving the health of patients with chronic illnesses or in remission from cancer. In fact, regular sports activities can strengthen cardiovascular capacity, reduce the risk of diabetes and certain cancers, combat stress and anxiety and even reduce the side effects of some treatments.
A response to regional inequalities
“Almost ten years ago, in 2013, we launched the Sports and Health in Disadvantaged Regions initiative, convinced that practicing sports was a public health issue,” explains Aurélie Martin, head of the program at Fondation de France. “So it was necessary to develop sports options in places where there were very few available, especially in rural areas where there is a huge need that has not been filled. Many isolated patients cannot drive miles to participate in sports, even though these activities enhance their health care. Since 2020, the health crisis has reinforced the sedentary lifestyle, creating delays in medical care and increasing isolation among sick people. The situation led us to expand our field of action beyond rural areas, towards at-risk neighborhoods that had also been impacted.”
Since the program was created, some 200 projects have seen the light of day throughout France. For example, in the Landes region the non-profit Hope Team East uses sports to help patients with chronic illnesses, mostly cancers, who are in treatment or post-treatment. Each participant, usually a woman, chooses a challenge, like hiking or cycling, with a sports professional. They prepare at their own pace, through training sessions adapted to their capacities – up until the big day. Elsewhere, in the Alps, the Cap Verdon association offers a variety of physical activities to people with chronic illnesses, long-term illness, or in remission from cancer. Cimgo (all-terrain wheelchair), tandem skiing, introduction to rock climbing, hiking, gentle gym and canyoning are on offer, with support from multidisciplinary teams (doctor, physical therapist, nurse, nutritionist, psychologist, etc.).
Another outstanding initiative that encourages patient autonomy is a project led by Terre d’Hippocrate. Created less than a year ago, this therapeutic garden located in Rambaud, near Gap, was co-founded by cardiologists, a doctor and an agronomist. The garden welcomes people suffering from cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, or other chronic illnesses with the aim of reconnecting them to physical exercise through gardening and nutritional workshops that use products from the garden. On a 1,600 square-meter plot there is room for each to dig, hoe, plant and participate in adapted sports activities, which take place outdoors if the weather allows. “It’s very encouraging,” enthuses Julie Gardette, a young doctor who is co-founder of the project. “Thanks to gardening activities, but also just the pleasure of being with other people and connecting with nature, patients break with their sedentary lifestyle. They are happy to come and almost all participate in the adapted sports sessions. A small group of motivated patients has even decided to get together to continue the activities on their own.” The nutritional workshops highlight the virtuous circle and help the patient become more independent in the daily management of their illness. They can thus create menus that are adapted to their treatment.
Sports and health, a strategy that is gaining ground
If the equation “sports and health to help sick people” may have seemed odd a few years ago, it is clear that physical activity as a therapeutic medium is more widely accepted today. In fact, several donor-advised funds have chosen to commit to it. Among them is Galzin Foundation, which aims to promote eating well and health-oriented sports, and the recent Fitness Park Foundation, which works to combat physical inactivity, especially in young people. Other donor-advised funds are taking a wider approach, incorporating other sports benefits, be they social or inclusive. Lacoste Foundation , for example, supports tennis for at-risk young people as a way of encouraging social integration. Practicing sports can also be a great way of changing the way people look at difference and disabilities, a strategy shared by MMA Foundation and L. and N. Croppet Foundation through their support of projects that focus on sports and people with disabilities.
Philanthropists’ commitment to therapeutic and preventive sports activities seem to have paid off and inspired good practices at government agencies. Since 2017, a law entitled “Sport sur Ordonnance” (Sports by Prescription) allows any person suffering from a chronic illness to get a prescription from their doctor for an appropriate physical activity. Finally, almost 500 Maisons Sport Santé (Sports and Health Houses) dedicated to the practice of adapted or preventative sports have opened around the country since they were launched in 2019 by the Ministry of Sports and the Ministry of Solidarity and Health.
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