Opinion | Your legs for life | Tim Roberts

The Richmond Vale Rail Trail.

The Richmond Vale Rail Trail.

Sobering facts about the value to you – and to the state – of moving from a sedentary mode of transport were graphically presented to about 80 delegates at last week’s Active Travel: Richmond Vale Rail Trail Conference.

Simply put, if you walk and/or cycle the facts show that you will live longer and cost the state less in health care. Ben Ewald, a clinician with a long-time passion for cycling, highlighted the value of the online Health Economic Assessment Tool for estimating health value of active transport by digging deep into epidemiological data. 

A group of 30,640 individuals followed for five years showed cycling to work gave a 28 per cent reduction in mortality. A larger study of 263,540 people in the UK followed for five years revealed that commuting by bicycle had a 41 per cent reduction in mortality.  However, when put in economic terms using the statistical value of a life, or the reduction in hospital bed days associated with increased daily walking as benchmarks, the benefit cost ratio of building a cycleway in a city far outshone that of building a freeway or rail line. 

Deb Moore, the National Heart Foundation’s Regional Health Promotion Coordinator (Hunter), drew on some strong scientific evidence in her lively presentation to encourage us to get more active. As little as two hours a week reaps huge health benefits. Massive datasets across many countries revealed the same trends for decreases in both diabetes and obesity with increases in active travel. Not to mention the cost benefits to the individual, the reduction in air pollution, reduction in fossil fuel usage, the increase in social connectivity and mental health.

Connecting our greater Newcastle for commuter cycling and walking as outlined in the Cycle Safe Network is surely the only sensible transport planning decision.

Professor Tim Roberts is the director of the Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment, University of Newcastle