For many of us, the rise of the use of private vehicles coupled with the related fall in active mobility (walking and cycling) has seen our waistlines expand and our fitness levels diminish.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), physical inactivity is a leading risk factor for ill health in developed countries, with the latest estimates suggesting that 30-70 per cent of adults in the European Union are overweight, while 10-30 per cent are obese. Only one third of the European population is estimated to meet the WHO’s minimum recommended levels of physical activity.
Our sedentary lifestyles, the figures suggest, are having a major impact on our physical well-being. The good news is that by simply changing the way we get from A to B this trend may reverse. Cycling for three hours per week can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by 50 per cent, while a study conducted by the University of Copenhagen found that those who cycled regularly lowered their risk of premature death by a massive 40 per cent.
To help urbanites choose more active modes of travel, a European Union project has been set up to provide information, resources and advice. The PASTA (Physical Activity Through Sustainable Transport Approaches) project focuses on ways that mobility in cities can be used to integrate physical activity into our everyday lives. Walking or cycling, rather than driving, for short trips can be an excellent way to fit the 20 minutes of daily exercise recommended by the WHO into our normal routine (currently 50 per cent of trips less than 5 km are undertaken by car).
Bringing together experts in policy, research and practice from across Europe, the project reviews literature on active mobility, identifying innovative measures and initiatives that are most effective in promoting cycling and walking.
A survey will be launched by the project in autumn 2014 which will look at the travel patterns of around 14,000 people in the cities of Antwerp, Barcelona, London, Örebro, Rome, Vienna, and Zürich. The aim is to gain an insight into how city planners can better promote physical activity as part of daily travel. Those interested can get involved by registering on the PASTA website.
The project has also developed a health impact assessment tool, titled HEAT. Created under the leadership of the WHO, this simple online tool provides an economic assessment of the health effects from cycling and walking. It is ideal for city officials planning a new piece of cycling or walking infrastructure, those looking to put an economic value on the reduced mortality rate caused by active mobility, or authorities undertaking comprehensive health impact assessments related to transport.
The outcomes of the project will be made available online to both citizens and transport planners. The ultimate goal of the project is to create a healthier, more physically active population - saving money and improving peoples' quality of life.