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Q&A with Ger Kroes

Ger Kroes, PhD, is a senior advisor for the Netherlands Institute for Sport and Physical Activity in Bennekom, the Netherlands. He has worked as a policy advisor with the Dutch Federation of Senior Policy. He also helped found the National Foundation More Exercise for Seniors in 1980 and served as its director. In addition, Kroes served as chief editor of Oudfit, a journal for practitioners about physical activity and aging. Active Aging Community Center editors interviewed Ger in August 2009.

Why did you select a career in physical activity and aging?

It’s more or less accidental that I’m working in this area. I’m a social scientist and communication scientist and had a lot to do with behavior change in my work for a national policy organisation. In the Netherlands, physical activity is an important instrument for health promotion, social cohesion, and livability. To stimulate inactive people to do sport and exercise, we did design projects, among others, for elderly and chronically ill people. Seeing that physical activity is one of the most effective instruments for behavior change is the main reason to stay in this area. Also, the enthusiasm of national and international colleagues is fascinating.

Thirty years ago, I became a director of the national institute More Exercise for the Elderly. We did build an organisation in which 400,000 seniors are doing their exercises weekly. This institute did exist until the year 2000 and after a fusion with NISB (Netherlands Institute for Sport and Physical Activity). I had different positions as a communication manager, program manager, campaign leader (50+), and now in the phasing out of my work, I am a senior advisor. I’m 61 years now and do work three days in a week.

Would you please describe your job as senior advisor for the Netherlands Institute for Sport and Physical Activity?

As a senior advisor, I do help my colleagues with the design of programs, the scientific knowledge you need, and the implementation and communications aspects you have to pay attention to. Also, advising other organisations (partnerships) and local and national government is a part of the job.

What projects are you working on now?

Concrete projects at this moment include International 50+ policy. With EUNAAPA (European Network for Action on Aging and Physical Activity), we are developing a project for sedentary elderly in the area of prevention and long-term care. With some colleagues, I’m working on the founding of an International Learning Centre for courses, master classes, meeting places, and sharing knowledge and experiences. I’m involved with the first ideas in what is now Active Aging Community Center (AACC), and I am busy with building European support for that.

Further, I do coordinate a very successful falls prevention/reduction project called In Balance. The Free University in Amsterdam did the research, and it is possible to reach with this program a 61% reduction compared with the control group. I did not see such a result before (worldwide). We are implementing this program also in relation with the education for the exercise leaders. We have contacts with an insurance company and local authorities to work on the financing of the implementation.

In the campaign 30 Minutes Exercise we are doing things now for older ethnic minorities and for people who will retire for work within half a year.

What is the best part about your job?

There are many, but to share the knowledge and experience with younger colleagues is very exciting and gives gratification and a solid base for the future.

What has been the most rewarding experience in your career, and why?

  1. Building a very good organisation just for sport and physical activity for the elderly.
  2. Designing very successful sport stimulation projects for people between 55 and 65 called GALM. This project did get a European Award for Health promotion.
  3. Setting up a fall prevention project In Balance. This project did get a Dutch Health Promotion Award.

Based on your experience, what is the most significant advancement in your field? Why?

That sport and physical activity is an important issue in our national and local politics. The national government and local authorities formulate policy in policy papers and postulate targets for reducing the inactivity of inactive people (at least 30 minutes a day).

Learn more about members of the Active Aging Community Center Steering Committee.

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The Netherlands Institute for Sports and Physical Activity (NISB) started to develop a fall prevention program based on the therapeutic elements of T’ai Chi, that have been identified as most beneficial for elderly persons.
This is a summary of how one country used physical activity campaigning to stimulate people’s interest in regular exercise.
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