I write this blog whilst sitting outside Västerbotten museum in Umeå, northern Sweden. My love affair with Scandinavia started in Denmark in 1972 and shows no sign of abating! It is always the little things that ‘get’ me in Scandinavia – the effortless chic, fantastic design, the candles, plants everywhere and the home furnishing shops – heaven! The bikes are lined up in the racks, the café is bright and welcoming, filled with wholesome healthy food. Simple… I am energised, creative and full of ideas hence this effusive blog!
Many things come to mind whilst I sit here however I am going to focus on Active Travel.
Active travel and health
When you travel actively in your day to day life you are exercising without really thinking about it! This is something that in the UK we still have a long way to go but are making headway. More countries including Holland, Denmark and Sweden have a well-established cycle network encouraging active travel.
There is some early evidence suggesting that active travel can have a positive effect on health outcomes and Sustrans₁ reports that since its inception in 1977, it has saved the UK economy almost £900,000 a day in health related benefits. Research is beginning to focus more widely on specific disease reduction for obesity and diabetes through active travel however this is at an early stage. Increasing physical activity by whatever means can make a significant difference to individual and population health and must be encouraged and facilitated. Not everyone can travel actively and this must be acknowledged however walking more is very simple and costs nothing and is good for you physically and mentally which really is a win win!!
The World Health Organisation (WHO) European Healthy Cities Network₂ now has more than 1400 cities and towns signed up to put health high on the social, economic and political agenda of local governments. It recognises that health is in effect ‘everyone’s business’ and affects population health and wellbeing. It aims to push boundaries and develop innovative collaborative approaches. Together we can all make a difference.
In Sweden I found myself constantly impressed by the number and age range of people cycling and what they were managing to carry on their bikes! I was also surprised at the low number of cyclists who were wearing helmets which can prevent serious injury.
The message really is to take every opportunity to move more and sit less! Walk, cycle, take the stairs, get off the bus a stop or two before your stop, it all adds up. You will be more energised, more productive and happier as a result.