People need to engineer exercise into their daily routines, TONY STUBBS writes
We know that physical inactivity – apart from contributing to the nation’s obesity crisis – is a major health problem in its own right. Our current lifestyles are costly and can be deadly. Each year, physical inactivity costs the economy an estimated $13.8 billion, causes 16,000 premature deaths and carries a higher risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, colon and breast cancer.
Evidence of the emphatic link between cardiovascular disease and physical inactivity dates back to the 1940s and, today, physical inactivity is the fourth leading contributor to the overall burden of disease nationally.
In the ACT, more than two-thirds of all adults do not get enough exercise to achieve health benefits. Results of the Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey showed three out of four year 6 students in Canberra do not achieve their recommended activity requirement each day.
n addition, the ACT chief health officer’s report in 2010 showed four in five children aged between 12 and 17 did not meet the national activity guidelines.
More than ever, investment and action is needed to encourage people to use active modes of transport – walking, cycling and public transport – to increase exercise and improve health outcomes for future generations. It is well recognised that investment in activity is the best buy in public health today.
The Heart Foundation has long advocated building physical activity into our daily lives. Being active – such as cycling or brisk walking – for just 30 minutes a day can halve your risk of cardiovascular disease.
We know people who use public transport have a good chance of getting their recommended level of physical activity during their travel.
Analysis of household travel data from the Victorian Integrated Survey of Travel and Activity found people who use public transport on a particular day spent an average 41 minutes walking and/or cycling as part of their travel – five times more physical activity than those who only use private transport.
But how can we further change our nation’s capital from being a car-dependent city? How do we get more people to walk or ride a bike to school, work or other destinations? On a broader scale, how do we tackle the challenges of congestion, climate change, the liveability of our cities and public health?
The ACT government has made big strides in the right direction in the active transport agenda undertaking a broad range of initiatives to encourage walking and cycling as alternative modes of transport. It has injected serious dollars in local infrastructure to promote active transport including improved lighting and security around public transport hubs; better pedestrian access and bicycle storage facilities; and improved corridor planning on Northbourne and Constitution avenues.
The government is now a signatory of the International Charter for Walking, which has a strong commitment to increased inclusive mobility and creating a healthy culture for walking.
Most recently, the Transport for Canberra plan is to be commended for the inclusion of a high-level physical activity taskforce, a focus on creating a sustainable, compact Canberra and investment in physical activity projects with everything from pools to footpaths, bike tracks and sports grounds.
In addition, the government has helped the Heart Foundation’s active living project, which encourages initiatives for a built environment to promote the uptake of an active lifestyle. This project – combining expertise from planning, health, transport, landscape architecture, academic and urban design sectors – has been internationally recognised for its work to overcome barriers and identify opportunities to support a more active Canberra community.
We still have a challenging task ahead of us. There remains a desperate need to tackle our obesogenic environments head on – and that means ongoing investment in programs and infrastructure that will make the healthier transport choices – walking, cycling and public transport – the easier choices.
And we know what works. The evidence base is overwhelming and solid; comprising Australian and international programs and initiatives where communities, towns and cities have got people out of cars and into more active modes of transport, often in vast numbers.
We must work collaboratively with a whole-of-government and whole-of-community approach to tackle our physical inactivity and obesity epidemic. The Heart Foundation’s active living forum, to be held on May 8, will bring together professionals from the government, business and community disciplines to do just this. The focus of the forum will be to develop actions to design Canberra’s built environment to enable the ACT community to lead healthier, more active lifestyles.
We are the nation’s leader when it comes to the use of active transport, but only about 7.5 per cent of the Canberra population walk or cycle to work. We need to engineer physical activity into our daily routines to reverse these statistics. Our vision for the ACT to boost participation in walking, cycling and public transport involve:
■ A consistent implementation of the recommendations in the Transport for Canberra strategy and the planning strategy.
■ Sustained and targeted funding for infrastructure, such as continuation of the one-off $3 million for infrastructure announced last year.
■ Ongoing funding for programs and policies and other education and behaviour change initiatives.
The cost of driving change is high, but the human and economic costs of obesity and chronic disease are significantly higher. Britain’s then chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, made this resounding point back in 2010: ”I recommend that the threat of climate change should provide sufficient impetus for action to substantially increase walking and cycling as common forms of transport.”
Tony Stubbs is the chief executive of the Heart Foundation.