By Khushpal Brar, program manager at pointA
We all know that physical activity is important, but with our sedentary lifestyles, many of us struggle to meet the daily minimum physical activity guidelines. Unfortunately, lack of physical activity comes at a steep cost, with studies showing that many health problems are directly related to physical inactivity, at an estimated healthcare cost of $6.8 billion in Canada.
Instead of taking time out of our busy days for exercise, incorporating exercise into our daily lives through active travel can go a long way to improving our health and wellbeing. Building more cycling infrastructure is one way to encourage more active travel, which includes any form of travel that is human-powered, such as walking or cycling.
There are several examples of health-focused transportation programs to draw inspiration from, such as the many cities that implemented separated cycling infrastructure (otherwise known as cycleways) in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The World Health Organization has recommended cycleways as an effective way to physically distance and maintain daily exercise requirements. Cities with cycleways have seen an average 7% increase in cycling and researchers estimate the infrastructure will generate $3 billion in health benefits per year. These benefits highlight the need to understand the impact of our travel choices on our health and incorporate wellness into all aspects of transportation networks from infrastructure to TDM programming.
Even though taking public transit doesn’t necessarily fit the definition of active travel, taking public transit also encourages more activity than driving alone. Studies show that public transit users walk an estimated 8.3 more minutes per day than non-users, burning off an equivalent to 26-39 kcal. While this may seem small, an increase in net expenditure of just 100 kcal/day can reduce the rate of obesity in 90% of the population.
Active travel also boosts productivity, as studies have shown that people who cycle take fewer days off work due to illness. It can often be difficult for people to incorporate exercise into their busy days. Supporting active travel programs and infrastructure can make exercise more accessible and inclusive.
Providing sustainable transportation options such as cycling can also have a profound impact on mental health and wellness. Active transportation users are some of the happiest commuters and the top incentives for cycling or walking are getting exercise while running errands/travelling to work and avoiding traffic congestion.
Conversely, the negative aspects of traffic congestion, from noise to emissions, have been proven to cause mental and physical health issues. Reducing the amount of time people sit in their cars in traffic can go a long way in supporting our health and the health of the planet. Additionally, having the option to travel actively gives people a chance to enjoy their space and fosters a sense of community.
Our transportation networks connect us to all our key destinations such as our workplaces. Sustainable travel can provide affordable options that improve access to opportunities and services. Access to employment has a significant impact on overall quality of life. Building our cities with health and transportation in mind can also make travel more efficient. The pressure to build wider roads to accommodate more single occupancy vehicle use is no longer viable. An active and sustainable transportation system offers many health benefits while saving on road and parking development costs.
Transportation plays a vital role in maintaining our health and wellbeing. A sustainably designed travel network gives us the opportunity to integrate wellness into our everyday routine.
Transportation demand management (TDM) programs provide the support and incentives to get more people to shift from driving alone to taking sustainable transportation. This can come in the form of personalized route planning that shows how someone could cycle to work, campaigns such as Bike Month, and surveys to understand what staff need in order to travel more sustainably, such as more bike secure bike parking, or shower/locker room facilities at the workplace.