Boosting mobility for better health
The sedentary nature of modern life has had a noticeably detrimental effect on both physical and mental health. An EU-funded project has highlighted how to boost the wellbeing of Europeans by linking transport and health policies.
© Pasta consortium
Despite the growing evidence that a sedentary lifestyle can lead to serious health problems, most people today do not meet the World Health Organizations (WHO) recommended minimum: at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week for adults aged 18-64.
If more people chose to walk or cycle to get around, in combination with well-planned public transportation, this could significantly contribute to their health and wellbeing. That is the concept of active mobility now being incorporated into the planning strategies of towns and cities across Europe and the focus of the EU-funded PASTA project.
PASTA assessed a total of 138 different measures promoting active mobility in seven cities around Europe and carried out a systematic review of the health impacts of active transport policies and measures that encourage active participation of its users. In all cases, the positive effects of more physical activity outweighed the possible negative effects due to accident risk or greater exposure to air pollution and led to significant health benefits.
The fields of transport and health have common goals, says PASTA project coordinator Elisabeth Raser of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Austria. By combining the aims of reducing the environmental impact and promoting more physical activity we can achieve some interesting synergies and improve the overall impact of public policies.
Linking transport policy to public health goals
Choosing an active way of getting around such as on foot or by bike is an easy way to integrate more physical activity into everyday life. This can be strongly encouraged by public policies and infrastructure investments to improve walking and cycling networks within towns and cities.
PASTA conducted a wide-ranging longitudinal study in seven case study cities Antwerp, Barcelona, London, Örebro (Sweden), Rome, Vienna and Zurich over two years, involving more than 12 000 participants. The results of this study are still being collated but already confirm a positive correlation between an increase in active mobility and an improvement in health indicators.
The project also contributed to the updating of the WHOs Health Economic Assessment Tool (HEAT), a practical tool for an economic assessment of the health effects of walking and cycling and to facilitate evidence-based decision-making by planners and city authorities.
In addition, a Handbook of Good Practice provides a collection of good practice examples to inspire more initiatives to promote active mobility across Europe.
Tools to get moving
PASTA served to highlight the real health advantages of policies promoting active mobility and created proof and means to make a difference, according to the project coordinator.
It has provided new evidence and tools to support the work of professionals at both national and local levels: transport planners, traffic engineers and special interest groups working on transport, walking, cycling or the environment, as well as health economists, physical activity experts and health promotion experts, she adds.