Keeping The Body Ticking And The Mind Alive During The Pandemic
Grammy Award Winner Ricky Key (left) with Lonnie Park (right) singing for Walk The Talk

This weekend, over 16 million people from all over the globe came together for the WHO’s third Walk the Talk: The Health for All Challenge. The two-day virtual event began Saturday in the Philippines and concluded on Sunday, with a 5-hour jam-packed virtual programme broadcast from Geneva – and boasting a vibrant range of physical activities and live chats with health experts to get people moving for their own health and that of others.

“It’s time to get moving. Exercise is so good for you. It’s good to walk, it’s good to breathe deeply, and you can do it in your house, but stay healthy. I’m going to get up, I’m going outside. I’m going to do my walk and walk the talk,” said US-based rhythm & blues artist Kim Sledge in support of WHO’s event.

On Sunday, Walk The Talk offered about 30 interactive events for all ages, ranging from a refreshingly positive concert with Grammy Award winner Ricky Kej, as well as art therapy; cooking classes; and dance, cycling and fitness workshops.

International Basketball Federation presents ‘paper-ball at home’ activity

The event featured some 50 guests and organizations, including leading personalities from groups as diverse as the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the International Olympic Committee, the International Basketball Association, the World Food Programme, the European Commission, and more.

As We Adapt To New Realities, Looking After Our Health Is Ever More Important 

As we adapt to new realities of working from home, unemployment, or homeschooling, it is ever more important that we look after our physical and mental health, said WHO’s director of Mental Health and Substance Use Devora Kestel.

Physical inactivity is already the fourth largest driver of global mortality – and may increase given stay-at-home measures. Accounting for 6% of deaths globally, physical inactivity is responsible for 1 in 4 breast and color cancers, as well as almost 30% of diabetes and 30% of ischaemic heart disease.

However, regular and adequate levels of physical activity can help improve quality of life and reduce the risk of non-infectious diseases like hypertension, coronary heart disease, stroke, diabetes, breast and colon cancer, depression and the risk of falls.

Interactive field hockey drills organized by Geneva-based Servette Field Hockey group.

Looking after our mental health is equally important as times change. Having a routine and not being too hard on oneself is important, emphasized Kestel:

“Try to keep an eye on daily routines, as much as possible. Eat healthy meals, do some exercise, even if at home, and keep in touch with people you care about. Make sure that you make time for yourself to do things you enjoy doing. Don’t be too hard on yourself, keep informed, keep yourself and your loved ones safe. More importantly, take care of yourself and be kind to one another.”

Artist Ann Tracy presented interactive activity on Sunday

One daily coping strategy could include art therapy, as art has positive effects on people’s physical and mental health, said artist Ann Tracy during her interactive art workshop on Sunday. According to research, art therapy reduces blood pressure, heart rate, anxiety, and can also help with depression.

Achieving Universal Health Coverage: Solidarity, Cooperation And Healthcare Workers

To effectively fight COVID-19 while achieving universal health coverage, the world needs to tick together in solidarity, agreed panelists:

“Leaving just one person behind can be catastrophic for all of us. There is no more time to waste on the talk. Let’s start walking now, once and for all, towards universal health coverage. Everyone safety depends on it,” said António Vitorino, Director-General of the International Organization for Migration.

To achieve universal health coverage, international cooperation and multilateralism will be crucial, added Ambassador Walter Stevens, head of the European Union delegation to the UN.

“This is a time of solidarity. This is a time of international cooperation and multilateral response. And the WHO is crucial in those efforts to improve global health.”

Acknowledging the importance of healthcare workers will be crucial in fighting COVID-19 as well as attaining universal health coverage, said Elizabet Iro, WHO Chief Nursing Officer.

“We need to invest in nurses and midwives…The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of the vital role nurses, midwives and other health workers play without them. We will not win the battle against outbreaks. We will not achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, or universal health coverage [without healthcare workers]. They need our support and respect.” 

Stay-At-Home Notices Have Had Some Good Repercussions: Healthier Cities

Lockdowns have improved air quality and healthy cities

Though the raging pandemic has wreaked economic havoc around the globe, some good things have come out of it, suggested WHO’s Director of Social Determinants of Health Etienne Krug.  Air quality in cities is better, and people have begun cycling and walking to get around, while avoiding crowded public transport:

“For the last few months, our air has been cleaner and people walk and cycle safely [in cities]. We have to make sure that we continue to walk and cycle as much as possible] to guarantee cleaner air” and good health, said Krug. “I encourage all cities to think about more cycling and walking.”

Stay At Home; Get Tested; Implement Physical Distancing; Wash Your Hands;

Walk The Talk also reinforced key messages to better confront the pandemic, including stay-at-home measures, physical distancing and copious handwashing.

“Stay home, walk the talk. Join WHO in this fantastic virtual event. Stay home, keep social distancing and clean your hands. And if you feel symptoms, go and get tested. It’s so important,” said Didier Pittet, director of Geneva University’s Infection Control Programme.

As he closed the 5-hour event on Sunday, WHO director Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that the Walk The Talk even provides a positive Launchpad for Monday’s 73rd virtual World Health Assembly, where the world will come together in attempts to “protect the most precious gift of health.” 

Dr Tedros personally presided over the first major, Geneva-wide Walk the Talk event just prior to the 2018 World Health Assembly – and ever since WHO has sponsored similar events before the WHA. At the last UN General Assembly in September 2019, WHO sponsored an event featuring music, culture and athletics in Central Park.  

“Welcome to the third edition of the who walk the talk, house for all challenge, live from Geneva, Switzerland. Unlike past years, when thousands of people gathered in Geneva us to dance, walk and move for health, today we are coming together and connecting in new ways to celebrate. 

“Today’s virtual Walk the Talk is the culmination of a two day global event,” Dr. Tedros said, referring to the fact that along with the events in Geneva, WHO regions have been hosting their own virtual Walk the Talk events, each in their own time zone.  “Yesterday, people from Manila to Washington DC showed that achieving our goal of promoting health for all has never been more important than today.”

Hopefully, the kind of cooperation that was evidenced in Sunday´s event also will help bring the world out of this crisis, said Valentin Zellweger, the Swiss ambassador to the Permanent Mission of Switzerland to the UN.

Let’s now celebrate Walk The Talk today and hope that we will find a good outcome of the World Health Assembly [on Monday]…common action and cooperation [will] bring us out of this crisis as quickly as possible. So please join us in discussing these issues,” said Zellweger to participants.

“There is one thing we can learn from coronavirus. To get to the end of the tunnel, we all have to stay strong. We have to stay active, and we have to stay healthy. So, please, come on, get active right now,” said Thomas Back, President of the International Olympic Committee, which is based in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Image Credits: WHO.

Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. Our growing network of journalists in Africa, Asia, Geneva and New York connect the dots between regional realities and the big global debates, with evidence-based, open access news and analysis. To make a personal or organisational contribution click here on PayPal.