Cycling and walking are good for your heart and the planet

By June Shannon Policy News   |   18th Apr 2019

Irish Heart Foundation joins health bodies calling for active travel to be central to new All-of-Government Climate Plan

The Irish Heart Foundation was one of a number of health organisations to call on the Government to ensure that active travel forms an integral part of the upcoming All-of-Government Climate Plan.

Active travel refers to journeys that use physical activity, such as walking and cycling, generally for a specific purpose such as going to work (as opposed to recreational walking or cycling).

Active travel allows people to integrate physical activity into their daily lives by walking or cycling to work, school, college or social activities. Therefore, by encouraging people to integrate activity into their daily lives, rather than viewing it as an extra thing on a to-do list, active travel helps to improve people’s overall health.

The role of everyday active travel in helping to improve the overall health of society has been well documented. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has developed a practical tool to assess the health and economic benefits of active travel projects, which is widely used throughout Europe but has not yet been used publicly in Ireland.

The Irish Heart Foundation was joined by Cyclist.ie, the Irish Cycling Advocacy Network, the Irish Cancer Society, Diabetes Ireland, Irish Doctors for the Environment, the Association for Health Promotion Ireland and the Irish Pedestrian Network, to present an open letter to An Taoiseach and Ministers Shane Ross (Transport, Tourism and Sport), Richard Bruton (Climate Action and Environment) and Simon Harris (Health) calling on the Government to embed active travel targets in the Health and Transport sections of the Climate Action Plan.

" There is considerable scope to replace car journeys with walking and cycling to bring about a range of benefits for health and climate change.”

Tim Collins, CEO , The Irish Heart Foundation

The open letter, addressed to An Taoiseach and co-signed by the health bodies, was presented at a press conference yesterday (Wednesday 17 April 2019) in Dublin. At the event Professor Donal O’Shea, Consultant Endocrinologist and Physician at St Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin and HSE Clinical Lead for Obesity, spoke on some of the issues raised in the letter. The text of the Letter is available here:

Speaking at the event, Tim Collins, CEO of Irish Heart Foundation, said, “Regular physical activity is key to achieving a healthy life, whether you are a patient or not. Higher levels of sedentary behaviour are associated with a 147 per cent increase in the risk of heart disease and stroke while Ireland’s child obesity crisis means eight-year olds are showing the signs of heart disease previously only seen in middle age. By merging active travel measures with climate targets, there is considerable scope to replace car journeys with walking and cycling to bring about a range of benefits for health and climate change.”

The Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment is currently developing a new All of Government Plan to bring about a step change in Ireland’s climate ambition over the next decade and beyond. It is envisioned that this new Plan will set out the actions which must be taken to make Ireland a leader in responding to climate change. It will have a strong focus on implementation, including actions with timelines and steps needed to achieve each action, assigning clear lines of responsibility for delivery.

Earlier this week (16 April) the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Climate Action published its final report in which it acknowledged that policies and strategies regarding active travel already exist in Ireland. According to the report, which makes more than 40 recommendations on steering Ireland’s approach towards climate action, “Solutions are available, many of which remain unimplemented parts of Government policy dating back to 2009. We require a transformation in how citizens and businesses travel on a daily basis. Walking, cycling and public transport must become the default choice for most and that requires infrastructure investments and the provision of safe, fast, frequent, reliable, clean and affordable options.”

According to the health bodies behind the call, “actual measures to enable people to adopt more active and sustainable travel patterns have been lacking as is clear from the failure to increase cycling levels nationally since 2000. We, the organisations listed above, call on Government to embed active travel targets in the Health and Transport sections of the forthcoming Climate Action Plan and link it clearly into the All-of-Government approach being developed for the sake of current and future generations.”

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active travel climate change commuters cycling heart palnet walking

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