Guest blog: Can cycling to work help address growing concerns of obesity, air pollution and climate change?

Guest blog: Can cycling to work help address growing concerns of obesity, air pollution and climate change?

Claire McLoughlin is the communications manager at the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change.

The Alliance brings together doctors, nurses and other health professionals to advocate for responses to climate change that protect and promote public health.

In our latest guest blog and to mark this years annual Cycle to Work day (15th August), Claire discusses how cycling to work may help to address the growing public health concern that are obesity, air pollution and climate change. 

For the past few weeks, it is safe to say that we have witnessed an undeniable demonstration of some of the effects of climate change – in the UK and globally.

We have been inundated with news reports of wildfires in California, extreme floods in Canada and East Asia and warned of tipping points which could accelerate the already precarious position the planet finds itself in.

For some, this may have resulted in a sense of impending catastrophe, but there is still time.

The need to act on climate change is significant, immediate and serious, and while many crucial decisions lay with governments acting on the advice of expert climate change bodies we can all do our bit. Every little bit really does count.

The great news is that the actions you can take to limit climate change are also those that make you healthier in the process.

The root causes of climate change and poor health are intrinsically linked. The burning of fossil fuels for energy, poor, meat-based diets that demand the destructive use of vast tracts of land, and shoddy urban design that promotes cars over cycling and walking, harm our health through lack of exercise, metabolic imbalances and air pollution. And as climate change continues apace, we’ll suffer more from heatwaves, droughts and famine. The things we’re doing to damage the planet are also those that damage our health.

By recognising this and making changes to our behaviour, we can all do our bit to respond to the needs of our planet and improve our lifestyle, health and wellbeing at the same time. And, as human life expectancy has increased, living well is just as important as living longer.

At the top of the list is cycling, which is a great way to achieve all these things. Bikes don’t require fuel, and cycling is not only great fun, it is great cardiovascular and muscle-toning exercise, a sociable activity if we want it to be, and much cheaper than running a car.

Cycling to work can save time and money, improve overall health and wellbeing through increased exercise and doesn’t cause air pollution or contribute to climate change.

Of course, for those of us living in cities and towns, it’s also important to find a cycle route that is both safe from other traffic and from excessive air pollution. This is being done – if rolled out across the UK, schemes like the one recently unveiled in Walthamstow in London could provide a cycling route network that enables exactly this without too much preparation and begins the process of re-planning cities to put people and their health, instead of vehicles and air pollution, first.

Cycle-to-work Day, like the increasing number of ongoing cycle to work schemes that many employers are now engaging with, benefits everyone. Businesses tick an important corporate responsibility box, staff get the health and well-being benefits, and the planet breathes a sigh of relief.

So, this Cycle-to-work Day, be inspired to get on your bike, practice first if it’s been a while, choose a safe route, and then maybe make it the first day of many cycle-to-work days. It’s just what the doctor ordered for you and the planet you live on.

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