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Time to make changes to the way we get around!

Rupert Lloyd, Project Coordinator at Public Health Dorset, reflects on the importance of active travel after a year of staying at home!

 Rupert Lloyd Web

After a year of lockdowns, home-schooling and temperamental broadband there are a lot of things we all miss about normal life. For me, one of these was walking or cycling to the places I need to get to when I could. Work, school and shops are all within half an hour’s walk for me, so on days where life would get in the way I found I could usually get my body moving without having to think or plan too much. With normal life on hold for the last year, I’ve found my days have become more and more sedentary with marathon screen sessions, interrupted by a short walk to the kettle and back.

Realising that I’ve missed these active parts of my day has got me thinking more and more about the value of active travel for health and wellbeing as we recover from the pandemic and beyond. In my mind, this value has a snowball effect. As more of us choose active travel over travelling by car, the benefit builds and builds – not just for our own health, but for other people’s health too. The Transforming Cities funding adds a big pile of snow to the snowball: delivering 78km of new cycle and walkways across South East Dorset, offering more people more opportunities to choose active travel for all or part of their journeys.

Active travel is something that most of us can build into our daily lives. Whether that’s walking, cycling, scooting or something else, getting our body moving, even for short periods, is good for us. It has many physical health benefits, like reducing our chances of developing heart disease for example, but it’s also really important for our mental health and wellbeing. People who are physically active are less likely to develop depression and dementia than people who aren’t. 

But the benefits don’t stop there. There are many more positives the Transforming Travel project will bring to the area.

Air pollution from cars, including tiny particles created by brake and tyre wear, has a major impact on the quality of the air we breathe. Walking, cycling and using public transport all help to reduce air pollution. 

Even within our cars we can be exposed to high levels of air pollution especially on congested ‘stop – start’ roads. Getting out of our car and choosing active travel gives us the flexibility to choose routes that avoid busy roads or take us through green spaces. Evidence of how spending time in greenspace benefits our health and wellbeing is ever growing, but for lots of us finding the right place, at the right time, can be challenging. Choosing ‘green routes’ for active travel, like a cut through the local park or following a tree lined cycle path, can provide a much-needed moment of calm and a dose of nature. 

And finally, as I type this alone in my spare room, my mind turns to the conversations I’ve had with friends, neighbours and total strangers whilst out on my bike or on foot. As we think about how we tackle an epidemic of loneliness, active travel can also help more of us enjoy contact with other people in our communities that we’ll never have sitting in our cars. 

Public Health Dorset provides a shared public health service across Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council and Dorset Council.  It is working in partnership with Transforming Travel’s Transforming Cities Fund to promote the benefits of the TCF programme.