On 16 and 17 May, the World Health Organisation (WHO) hosted its 3rd Walk the Talk: The Health for All Challenge – although for the first time ever on the WHO’s digital platforms, due to the current coronavirus pandemic.
The new-format virtual event included fun physical activities, health information sessions with experts on topics ranging from physical and mental health to nutrition and healthy ageing, musical performances and cooking demonstrations, among many others.
To ensure participants from all over the world could stay active while following the event at home, the broadcast featured numerous interactive sessions including training tips from top ultra-endurance athlete Killian Jornet, basketball at home challenges, Zumba classes, yoga and mediation sessions, and a range of strengthening exercises prepared by coaches and athletes from the UCI World Cycling Centre (WCC).
The event was run as an online virtual global relay, with events kicking off on 16 May in WHO's Regional Office in the Western Pacific in Manila and featuring activities from each of the regional offices in Delhi (India), Brazzaville (Congo Republic), Cairo (Egypt), Copenhagen (Denmark), and Washington DC (USA), before arriving in Geneva (Switzerland) at WHO Headquarters on Sunday 17 May, for the opening of the 73rd World Health Assembly.
The event had four main objectives:
1/ To raise awareness and profile the work and goals of WHO and other global health agencies based in Geneva and around the world, highlighting the role of Geneva as a global health capital in improving global health;
2/ To encourage healthy lifestyles and behaviours, not only in the context of COVID-19, but as a long-term strategy for good physical and mental health;
3/To recognise the expertise and sacrifices of health workers, who care for us throughout our life’s course;
Training like an elite cyclist
The UCI WCC teams in both Switzerland, and South Africa were actively involved in the preparation of the event, creating interactive videos for the public to follow worldwide. Based in the city of Paarl, the WCC Africa is, since 2005, the continental hub for cycling in Africa, with the mission to develop and improve the level of cycle racing across the continent and to prepare African riders for international competition. Liandi Terblanche, the WCC Africa’s biomechanical sport development specialist, ran a full session to allow the pubic to train like an athlete, offering numerous tips to ensure efficient preparation and positioning for riding.
The UCI WCC mountain bike athletes, who normally train at the elite coaching and training centre in Aigle (Switzerland) shared their favourite training routines from three different countries. Tumelo Makae (from Lesotho) invited viewers to follow his training routine in Switzerland , while his teammates Akari Kobayashi and Alex Malacarne shared core and strength exercises from Japan and Brazil.
Promoting cycling for post-COVID transport
As a healthy and sustainable mode of transport, the benefits and accessibility of cycling were highlighted by the UCI’s Director General Amina Lanaya, who also participated in the virtual event. As confinement measures slowly start to ease, and cities around the world taking bold and direct actions to multiply safe cycling opportunities for citizens, both cycling and walking have been positioned as key transport options for the immediate future.
Dr Etienne Krug, Director for Social Determinants of Health at the WHO, summarised this growing potential in his virtual message to the public: “We have to make sure we continue to walk and cycle as much as possible for our transportation. This will guarantee cleaner air and will be good for our health. It will also protect us from overcrowded transportation where the virus will be disseminated again. (…) I would like to encourage all cities to think about more cycling and walking and make sure it can happen safely. And all of us to consider getting our old bike out of the shed and start cycling again.”