Local authorities must invest in ‘active travel’ to support healthy ageing, charity urges


Local authorities should invest more in walking and cycling infrastructure to help people stay physically active in later life, the Centre of Ageing Better has said.

A new report from the charity found that a lack of cycle and footpaths, personal safety concerns and declining health are key barriers to people in their 50s and 60s walking or cycling as a means of travel.

The government announced last week changes to the Highway Code, including a ‘road user hierarchy’, giving pedestrians greater priority over cars at junctions and crossings and cyclists priority when travelling straight ahead at junctions.

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But in order to capitalise on the increased interest in active travel sparked by the pandemic, Ageing Better argues that local authorities must go further.

The organisation says councils should invest in maintaining pavements and cycle lanes, improving deteriorating surfaces and designing street networks that make it easier to get to local shops, services and transport links.

Dr Aideen Young, evidence manager at the Centre for Ageing Better, said: “Being physically active is one of the best ways to helps to prevent those chronic, long-term health conditions that impede our ability to live a good later life. And yet the proportion of people who are physically active generally decreases with age.

“Active travel is one of the easiest ways to build routine physical activity into daily life, and the pandemic has added a new incentive for many to find alternatives to public transport. But as this research shows, the areas we live in often contain barriers to walking and cycling, and for many people walking and cycling simply isn’t safe or attractive enough currently.

“The changes to the Highway Code prioritising people who are walking and cycling are a step in the right direction but we need proper investment in infrastructure in communities if we are to seize this opportunity to make the most of and sustain public interest in active travel.”

The Ageing Better study found that around a quarter of adults aged 55 to 74 are currently inactive, which means they are doing less than 30 minutes of physical activity per week.

Andy Cope, Director of Impact & Insight at Sustrans, said:“ The findings of our research are naturally concerning and clearly show that we need to go further as a society to enable people of all ages to be more active when travelling. It’s essential for their health and wellbeing, connects them with neighbours, fosters a sense of community, and of course reduces car traffic.

“But we can’t do that when our towns and cities are organised more for cars than for people, and the evidence in this report highlights how the built environment influences older peoples’ attitudes. Local authorities should recognise this and make changes to their areas to make it easier and more enjoyable for people to walk and cycle.”

Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels.

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Sarah Clarke

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