With it being Road Safety Week, we thought that readers may find it inspiring to explore some of the many health and lifestyle benefits of reducing the number of journeys we make by car. It's all part of the mission to make Britain's streets safer and more pleasant places in which to live and travel.
Five people die on UK roads and over 60 are seriously injured every day. Yet many of these deaths and injuries could be avoided simply by taking fewer car journeys.
Four in 10 car journeys are less than two miles, while many people walk the few steps from their front door and take the car even if they're only going round the corner. An estimated one in five cars on the road during the morning rush-hour is involved in the school run. Half of all children are driven to school, even though the average distance to primary schools is just 1.5 miles.
Last year it was reported that 1.8million Britons were travelling three hours to and from work. The average commute in the United Kingdom is 54 minutes (compare this with the United States, where it is just 25.4 minutes), meaning that a typical commuter travelling to and from work by car five days a week for 48 weeks each year spends 432 hours in a car seat.
Reducing the number of short-distance car trips we take means fewer road crashes; while 'active transportation' such as cycling and walking are among the best ways of staying fit and healthy. Unlike most other forms of exercise, they are easy to fit into your daily routine, such as commuting to and from work. If your commute is too far to walk or cycle, you can use public transport or a shared ride for part of your journey and travel the rest on foot or by bike.
Improving our physical health
From a health and safety perspective the benefits of driving less are irrefutable. A 2014 study in the British Medical Journal concluded that people who drive to work are fatter and less healthy than people who travel by other means. Women had a body mass index (BMI) 0.7 points lower and weighed more than five pounds less than women who drove to work. While for men the difference was even greater: men who didn't drive to work had a BMI one point lower and weighed almost seven pounds less than those who took the car. Conversely, a review of 16 studies into cycling and health shows that riding a bike regularly can have a beneficial impact on a range of medical conditions, including asthma, depression, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis and even some cancers.
NHS physical activity guidelines state that 'to stay healthy or to improve health, adults need to do two types of physical activity each week: aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity'. To achieve maximum cardiovascular fitness it is recommended that we exercise moderately for at least 150 minutes every week. Alongside the cardiovascular benefits, regular exercise can help you lose weight. For instance, a person weighing 80kg (12st 9lb) will burn more than 650 calories in just cycling for one hour.
Improving our mental health
And it isn't just our physical health that benefits. Walking or cycling can actually improve your mood – brain scans taken before and after exercise show a marked improvement in the areas of the brain known to regulate mood, whilst studies show that the longer people spend commuting in cars, the worse their psychological health.
Dr Margo Hilbrecht, an associate director of research for the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, is lead author of a study which suggests that the more time we spend driving to work the less happy we are with our life overall. "The longer amount of time you spend in a car getting to and from work, the more time pressure you feel and the lower your overall satisfaction with your life," she said. "It is not just the amount of time you spend commuting, it is the quality of the commute and the time you do or don't have for physical activity. More physical activity is associated with a higher level of satisfaction in life. If you put in a full day at work and then have an extended commute, you don't have a lot of time left to unwind."
All signs point to the fact that we're safer, happier and healthier when we leave the car at home.
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