Marathons are a popular activity for many people, and none attract more attention than city-organized events, such as the New York, London, and even the Geneva race. Extremely diverse in age, occupation and country of origin, participants come from all walks of life to have fun with friends and run for a cause.
While running to raise money for a non-profit is certainly noble, the health implications of preparing for a race are also - from a more selfish point of view - quite beneficial. There is a growing global trend towards decreasing daily physical activity and ever increasing sedentary lifestyles, leading to easily preventable chronic Non-communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as heart conditions, hypertension, and type II diabetes. Communities try to persuade people to be more active by encouraging participation in events that indirectly promote health, such as marathons.
Unlike the much larger New York and London marathons, the annual Geneva Escalade (held on the first Saturday of December) is a family oriented day of fun. With 25,000 participants it is also the most popular running race in Switzerland. Many more activities complement the running as part of a larger celebration commemorating the defeat of the Duke of Savoy in 1602.
To prepare for the race, training sessions are organized in the weeks leading up to the run to help even the most out of shape to join in. Healthy habits start young, so special efforts are made to encourage children to participate, and start preventing potential NCDs at an early age. Geneva even covers half the child entry fee. Over the past seven years training sessions have been held specifically for children between the ages of 6 and 12. Each training session focuses on a different aspect of a balanced and healthy diet, after which the child receives a stamp in their personal Escalade passport, making a game out of collecting the stamps and learning about health. Participation by schools is becoming a growing trend; the previous event saw about 15% of the canton’s children running the race.
At this year’s Geneva Health Forum (18-20 April) Bengt Kayser of the Institute of Movement Sciences and Sports Medicine (University of Geneva) discusses the beneficial impact of events such as the Escalade race on public health, and the potential decrease of many common NCDs. In particular he focuses on the training sessions people undertake before the race, studying the continuing impact on an individual’s long term health. His studies show that community events do indeed have an influence on people’s health, habits and choices both before and after the event, and that races such as this one can lead to better general public health.
The Escalade model has spread to other parts of Switzerland as part of the continuing effort towards a healthier society. With a strong push in schools, the number of children participating is increasing every year. The hope is that they will retain the lessons they have learned about health, and keep applying them for the rest of their lives.
(Photo © Geneva Health Forum website)
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