Getting people active is almost a losing battle. Who remembers the ‘Push Play - 30 minutes a day’ campaign from a decade ago? Fast forward to today and nothing has changed for New Zealanders. Physical activity researchers now agree that telling people to exercise is not working. People already realise this, but we are all busy. There are 24 hours in a day divided between sleep, work or school, and ‘the rest’ into which we cram everything else. When it comes to divvying up the final third of our time, exercise is often the loser.
If we truly want a healthier nation, let’s move away from telling people to be active and instead make it easier to be active in their cities and neighbourhoods. How do we do this? By changing the environment so physical activity happens incidentally, as part of our everyday life.
The recent announcement by the New Zealand Transport Agency of plans for a shared cycling and walking pathway over the Auckland Harbour Bridge is a great example of how we can future proof our cities to support a healthier nation.
According to NZ Transport Agency, Auckland Harbour Bridge Shared Path will provide a five-metre-wide path flanking the Harbour Bridge’s southbound traffic side, directly linking Westhaven to Northcote Point and connecting with the future Sea Path route.
As a professor of physical activity and environment I am encouraged to see these new developments. Whatever the details of the design, Auckland is setting a clear signal that things need to change and fast. In a few decades, Auckland could well be known for its lifestyle of walking, cycling and public transport systems.
There are several examples around the world where a drastic shift has been made from cars to active and public transportation such as Portland-Oregon’s Car-Free bridge the Tilikum Crossing. The bridge opened in 2015 and is the longest car-free bridge in North America catering for pedestrians, bikes and scooters along with light rail, streetcars and buses.
For years researchers and physical activity specialists have advocated for the minimum 30 minutes per day of physical activity every day for health benefits. Regular physical activity has been shown to reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease (35%), breast cancer (20%), colon cancer (30%), premature death (30%), dementia (30%), depression (30%) and Type 2 Diabetes (up to 40%). Yet we are still suffering as a nation from lifestyle diseases.
The recent University of Otago led report Turning the Tide-from cars to active transport, of which I was a co-author, includes 13 key policy recommendations and 39 suggested actions for Active Transport in New Zealand. Launched at Sport New Zealand and supported by its chief executive Peter Miskimmin and Associate Minister of Health and of Transport, Julie Anne Genter, Turning the Tide sets clear national targets for walking, cycling public transport and car trips. These are:
All of which means reducing the percentage of car trips from 84% in 2018 to 45% by 2050. We need to get out of our cars and use active modes and public transport and the new Auckland Harbour Bridge announcement is a huge step in the right direction.