Ditch the car, get off the bus – walk some more

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) in the UK have issued advice that they believe active transport – or walking and cycling – for short journeys should become far more common-place in the UK. They now think that the harm caused by a national epidemic of inactivity could cause as much population-level harm as smoking.

They have called for workplaces, schools, local authorities and health bodies to band together to promote and assist people in active transport as far as possible. Their most recent report notes that almost two-thirds of men and nearly three-quarters of women in England are not sufficiently active to maintain their health, with the results little better for children. The most worrying thing is that people don’t seem to be aware of the scale of the invisible burden that this lack of activity places upon them.

The Nice report urges local authorities to devise a coherent, long-term plan for boosting active travel to be at the centre of every policy. Schools are being advised to provide secure bike parking and introduce “walking buses” where pupils walk to and from school in a supervised group, with employers similarly guided on helping staff ditch their cars.

The report’s authors say they are aware of the ambition of their plan, with the average Briton now walking or cycling 80 miles a year less now than they did a decade ago and the percentage of journeys made by bike remaining at about 2%, against 26% for the Netherlands and 19% in Denmark. They liken the efforts to the 50 year-plus battle to curb smoking rates. They also urged people not to overestimate the dangers associate with cycling, despite recent high-profile accidents.

This is an interesting quote from the press release, from the lead author – Harry Rutter: “What we don’t notice is that if you were to spend an hour a day riding a bike rather than being sedentary and driving a car there’s a cost to that sedentary time. It’s silent, it doesn’t get noticed. What we’re talking about here is shifting the balance from that invisible danger of sitting still towards the positive health benefits of cycling.”

Do you walk as much as you could? Or cycle? The extra activity adds up across the week. You’ll feel better, look better, and be healthier into the bargain. You’ll probably sleep better and eat better too.

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