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Better knowledge of Highway Code changes to protect cyclists and more 20mph speed limits recommended by professor who argues active travel is "best buy" for improving nation's health

Writing in the British Medical Journal, Professor Scarlett McNally made the case for exercise and active travel being a "miracle cure" that "improves physical and mental health and reduces demands on NHS services and the need for social care"...

A consultant orthopaedic surgeon has made the case for active travel being the "best buy" for improving people's health, publishing a piece in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) arguing that encouraging more cycling and walking journeys should be a priority in the United Kingdom — with better communication of the Highway Code changes designed to protect vulnerable road users, and wider implementation of 20mph speed limits two of her suggestions for helping to "challenge the UK's car dependency and enable active travel for everyone's health".

Professor Scarlett McNally authored the piece published in the BMJ, titled 'Enabling active travel can improve the UK's health', and looked at research around active travel to highlight its health benefits before recommending policy suggestions for bringing about more walking and cycling journeys.

Cyclists in London stopped at red light outside marks and spencer - copyright Simon MacMichael

She began by acknowledging the "urgent need to improve the nation's health, which worsened over the pandemic", and noted that an "abundance of evidence and reports" point to exercise being a "miracle cure that improves physical and mental health and reduces demands on NHS services and the need for social care".

"The best forms of exercise are those that fit into everyday life," she continued. "Active travel is a 'best buy' for improving health. Commuting by cycling reduces incidence of, and mortality from, heart disease and cancer by over 30 per cent in a dose dependent manner and reduces sick days and depression."

> NHS trial to prescribe cycling to patients to improve physical and mental health receives increased funding

However, citing Department for Transport statistics which show that 71 per cent of women and 61 per cent of men believe it is too dangerous to cycle on the UK's roads, Prof. McNally suggested the need for segregated safe cycle routes which, when provided, "people use them, as has been demonstrated in Paris".

Paris cyclists on Rue Saint-Antoine (picture credit Simon MacMichael).PNG

> Six in ten users of pop-up bike lanes in Paris are new to cycling, says city's government

"In the UK, massive central funds are spent on major roads. Conversely, funds for infrastructure to support active travel are stuck in local council budgets, which are facing a £4bn spending gap," she said before making "four suggestions to support active travel cheaply".

Prof. McNally followed many road safety campaigners and charities, such as Cycling UK, in calling for the Highway Code changes of January 2022, brought in to better protect vulnerable road users, to be better communicated to the public with a "bigger media campaign" about safe overtaking distances, and pedestrian and cyclist priority at junctions.

Secondly, and based on the "horrific injuries I see in orthopaedic and fracture clinics" that get "exponentially worse with every 1 mph increase in speed", she suggested the need to "demand 20 mph limits in all areas where people are".

Looking at the NHS itself, the consultant orthopaedic surgeon argued that the NHS should be "role models" and lead the way on a modal shift from driving to active travel, a transition enabled with pavements in all NHS sites, secure cycle parking, and lockers for wet gear.

"Fourthly, we need to link with other initiatives," she concluded. "Every NHS organisation is required to deliver a 'green plan'. Active travel reduces pollution, which causes catastrophic ill health and harms the planet. Children getting to school under their own steam has huge benefits. Many families cannot afford a second car or live in transport poverty. People being able to get about safely reduces loneliness. Let's challenge the UK's car dependency and enable active travel for everyone's health."

Cyclists in London talking in cycle lane - copyright Simon MacMichael

> Cycle lanes grow in popularity once they are installed, study finds – but policymakers warned that "paternalistic" promotion of active travel schemes heightens opposition

In January, we reported new research published in the International Journal of Epidemiology which found that commuting by bike can improve mental health, with those who cycle to work less likely to be prescribed antidepressants.

"This work suggests that cycle commuting is causally related to reduced mental ill-health and provides further evidence in support of the promotion of active travel to encourage commuters travelling shorter distances to shift to cycle commutes," the University of Edinburgh researchers concluded.

Later in the same month, new research by the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences in Stockholm, and published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that boosting cardiorespiratory fitness by three per cent in a year was linked to a 35 per cent lower risk of developing prostate cancer.

Dan is the road.cc news editor and has spent the past four years writing stories and features, as well as (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. Having previously written about nearly every other sport under the sun for the Express, and the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for the Non-League Paper, Dan joined road.cc in 2020. Come the weekend you'll find him labouring up a hill, probably with a mouth full of jelly babies, or making a bonk-induced trip to a south of England petrol station... in search of more jelly babies.

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163 comments

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Hirsute | 2 months ago
3 likes

Shouldn't you two lovebirds be watching the rugby ?

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don simon fbpe replied to Hirsute | 2 months ago
0 likes

Milan Sanremo, rugby later.

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Hirsute replied to Hirsute | 2 months ago
1 like

I can see why you didn't want to watch it...

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don simon fbpe replied to Hirsute | 2 months ago
0 likes

It wasn't very pretty. Milano Sanremo was most enjoyable, I had an old mate racing but he wasn't name checked this year and he didn't feature anywhere, his team did though (they got plenty of TV time).

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Geoff Ingram | 2 months ago
2 likes

I just want to know why immigrants to England are called that, and not referred to as asian/muslim/african expats, a much less loaded term,. Those Brit expats in the costal areas of Spain certainly often don't attempt to integrate much and can remain aloof.

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imajez | 2 months ago
5 likes

"Six in ten users of pop-up bike lanes in Paris are new to cycling, says city's government"

I reckon that figure would be way higher if you checked when folk first started riding in city as opposed to first being a cyclist. Whilst riding around Paris before Mayor Hidalgo started changing things, very rarely would I ever see another cyclist. So even cyclists didn't ride there. At that time way more Londoners rode bikes than in Paris and not many Londoners rode bikes at all. 
People were horrified when I mentioned cycling in Paris, because of the crazy drivers. However I felt far safer there than I ever did when riding in UK. The lunatic drivers would actually be quite respectful around me as a cyclist even if crazy towards other drivers. As it fairly usual when riding/driving in France. Probably because their biggest sporting event is a cycling race and so cyclists are seen more as heroes than annoying roadkill. 

 

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eburtthebike | 2 months ago
13 likes

She began by acknowledging the "urgent need to improve the nation's health, which worsened over the pandemic", and noted that an "abundance of evidence and reports" point to exercise being a "miracle cure that improves physical and mental health and reduces demands on NHS services and the need for social care".

This, a thousand, nay, a million times this.

The only problem being that the media studiously ignores anything about active travel.  Over the past week we've had yet another report about the obesity epidemic, and all the media talk about is diet.  LBC have had several features on it, and I've rung in a few times to put the case for AT, but despite being assured that they will call me back, they never do: the same happens with any phone in or media discussion.  The BBC is especially guilty in ignoring AT, with hundreds of articles about obesity and health, but nary a mention of AT, focussing entirely on diet.

There have been hundreds of reports about the benefit of exercise and AT, but the media simply ignores them.  What can we do?  Picket the offices of the media perhaps?

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FionaJJ replied to eburtthebike | 2 months ago
4 likes

The media like to focus on one or two things at once, and as much as I'd also like more focus on active travel, I'm pleased that there is finally some proper focus on food, and more importantly, the quality of our food. As the saying goes, you can't run away from a bad diet, and the multi-national edible chemical industry that calls the stuff it sells food has for too long been allowed to get away with the assertion that they aren't to blame and that obesity is down to laziness.

That doesn't mean that excercise isn't also important for health, but diet far more than exercise is relevant to the obesity crisis.

But just as we need governments to make it easier to eat well, they should also be making it easier to incorporate exercise into our every day lives via active travel. It's not one or the other - it's both.

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eburtthebike replied to FionaJJ | 2 months ago
2 likes
FionaJJ wrote:

That doesn't mean that excercise isn't also important for health, but diet far more than exercise is relevant to the obesity crisis.

No.  The evidence seems to suggest that exercise is more important.

She began by acknowledging the "urgent need to improve the nation's health, which worsened over the pandemic", and noted that an "abundance of evidence and reports" point to exercise being a "miracle cure that improves physical and mental health and reduces demands on NHS services and the need for social care".

And five or six years ago, NICE said that achieving the government's cycling targets was the best way of tackling the obesity crisis.

Whilst you acknowledge that exercise is important, you don't explain why the media completely ignores it, or even trashes it e.g. when Henry Dimbleby investigated the obesity crisis a few years ago, and he said many times that exercise was completely useless and it was entirely due to diet.  The media were all over it, especially the BBC, with a Dimbleby and food together, two of their favourite subjects.  Again, I contacted the BBC progs about their reporting and his mistake, to no avail.

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hawkinspeter replied to eburtthebike | 2 months ago
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eburtthebike wrote:
FionaJJ wrote:

That doesn't mean that excercise isn't also important for health, but diet far more than exercise is relevant to the obesity crisis.

No.  The evidence seems to suggest that exercise is more important.

She began by acknowledging the "urgent need to improve the nation's health, which worsened over the pandemic", and noted that an "abundance of evidence and reports" point to exercise being a "miracle cure that improves physical and mental health and reduces demands on NHS services and the need for social care".

And five or six years ago, NICE said that achieving the government's cycling targets was the best way of tackling the obesity crisis.

Whilst you acknowledge that exercise is important, you don't explain why the media completely ignores it, or even trashes it e.g. when Henry Dimbleby investigated the obesity crisis a few years ago, and he explained many times that exercise was completely useless and it was entirely due to diet.  The media were all over it, especially the BBC, with a Dimbleby and food together, two of their favourite subjects.  Again, I contacted the BBC progs about their reporting and his mistake, to no avail.

My belief is that for weight loss, then diet/portion control is the best method, but for improving general health, then exercise is critical (though, there's some cross-over with obesity related conditions where a diet change is more important than exercising).

In general, it's a lot easier for people to incorporate Active Travel into their lives than it is for them to forgo sugar-laden snacks, but it seems that we have big money invested in opposing both - oil money opposes Active Travel and food industry money opposes healthy eating.

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marmotte27 replied to hawkinspeter | 2 months ago
2 likes

"My belief is that for weight loss, then diet/portion control is the best method, but for improving general health, then exercise is critical"
A combination of the two is best. Diet control will have you lose weight, physical activity will make it sustainable.

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hawkinspeter replied to marmotte27 | 2 months ago
3 likes
marmotte27 wrote:

"My belief is that for weight loss, then diet/portion control is the best method, but for improving general health, then exercise is critical" A combination of the two is best. Diet control will have you lose weight, physical activity will make it sustainable.

Definitely.

A big benefit of cycling is that your metabolism runs hotter/quicker for several hours after riding, so it can aid with weight management as long as you don't use it as an excuse for scoffing loads of pizza

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eburtthebike replied to hawkinspeter | 2 months ago
6 likes

Clearly faked, there's no pineapple on the pizza, squirrels' favourite topping.  You are that royal bint who faked the photo and ICMFP.

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hawkinspeter replied to eburtthebike | 2 months ago
6 likes
eburtthebike wrote:

Clearly faked, there's no pineapple on the pizza, squirrels' favourite topping.  You are that royal bint who faked the photo and ICMFP.

The pineapple got eaten first

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Secret_squirrel replied to hawkinspeter | 2 months ago
1 like
hawkinspeter wrote:

don't use it as an excuse for scoffing loads of pizza

Wash your mouth out!

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FionaJJ replied to marmotte27 | 2 months ago
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And eating the right things. Most of us don't eat enough fruit and veg, and a lot of stuff packaged as healthy is anything but. 

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don simon fbpe replied to hawkinspeter | 2 months ago
5 likes

As an over 50, I have just lost over 6 kilos since Christmas, I haven't rationed a single meal and have eaten when hungry, more importantly I have eaten whatever I wanted. I generally eat cleanly, cooking from scratch for most meals and I don't have a sweet tooth. I lost weight during lockdown and again during my three months in Morocco. Lockdown came with an alcohol free 4 month period and 600km per week of riding, Morocco offered zero alcohol, very little exercise and a very clean diet of no ultra-processed foods. The weight gain came from work related meals and the alcohol that was accepted in such environments and a sedentary lifestyle where a crap diet didn't spark one's enthusiasm for doing exercise.

In my view, weight loss can be achieved by diet alone, the diet gets a little more complicated as you require certain foods to help with exercise and those foods alone may not assist weight loss (looking at you carbs). But a combination of not eating crap and exercise is also good.

But this is UK, government is not interested in the wellbeing of the population, pharma gets no profits from the fit and healthy.

 

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Simon E replied to eburtthebike | 2 months ago
2 likes
eburtthebike wrote:

No.  The evidence seems to suggest that exercise is more important.

Research suggests that what you eat and drink is more significant than exercise, though both are important, and the exercise bit is not solely about burning calories. All discussed in a recent talk given by Chris Van Tulleken at the Royal Institution. 57 minutes and full of straightforward (but rather concerning) information:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5QOTBreQaIk

It's not just the media that prefer to lampoon and criticise cyclists, lots of politicians are in on it too, taking the petrodollars and other bribes and pandering to all the blinkered voters who drive and think they're victims but don't realise how mollycoddled & subsidised they are and don't care about their part in making the roads more dangerous for everyone.

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FionaJJ replied to eburtthebike | 2 months ago
0 likes

The evidence is that for most people diet is far more important to weight than exercise. People who take up exercise in the hope of losing lots of weight whilst still eating unhealthily are doomed to disappointement. 

Of course weight isn't the only factor for what makes us healthy, and a healthy diet goes well beyond the appropriate number of calories. Unfortunately in this country most of us don't eat enough fruit and veg, nor do we do enough exercise. It shouldn't be one or the other.

I wasn't dismissing the value of exercise. It's important for many aspects of health, and even if it won't directly make you lose weight, there is a case to be said that the benefits to mental health and feeling better about yourself will encourage people to be more health conscious and eat well. I'm certainly not discounting that. 

But for years the industrial food sector has tried to discount the issues with their products, and claimed that obesity is nothing to do with them, and finally there is a bit of momentum to push back against that, and we shouldn't let them off the hook by letting them use exercise to deflect from their responsibilities.

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don simon fbpe replied to FionaJJ | 2 months ago
4 likes

In France last year and I got a bit frustrated as there were days when I just wanted a quick and easy ready cooked meal, just something like ready cooked rice/beans/legumes that I could throw in with some meat. Nothing at all of that ilk in the Aldis and Lidls I visited, wall to wall proper food that need cook's input in preparation. I quietly confident that there weren't even frozen pizzas in the freezer aisles.

I find it unbelievable that the majority of supermarkets here dedicate so much shelf space to crap.

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imajez replied to don simon fbpe | 2 months ago
2 likes

Aldi [here in UK at least] have a good selecion of beans, grains and rices in a bag for around a £1. Ideal for bikepacking or 1min in microwave for a small meal/part of bigger meal. A meal in bag from outdoors shop will cost £5-6. 

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FionaJJ replied to don simon fbpe | 2 months ago
1 like

It's also worth looking at the proportions dedicated to fruit and veg vs ready meals vs snacks etc of supermarkets of the same brand in different parts of the country and even different parts of the same city. Poorer areas have a lot more crap. There are regional differences too. I'm afraid Scotland does live up to the stereotype by having more shelf space for sweets and biscuits.

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don simon fbpe replied to FionaJJ | 2 months ago
0 likes

I was chatting with a student this morning who commented that she could cook a meal from scratch quicker than it takes to reheat a ready made meal in UK. I don't understand ( I do) how this country has fallen for the poor quality of food that's on offer and lost the skills to feed itself healthily

Oddly, in Spain, I noticed more and more people buying ready meals from supermarkets and felt that they were making a statement on status, that they were too busy and important (and have enough money) that they have no need for buying cheap fruit and veg from the local shop. They did this with ciggies, the status symbol was Marlboro while those that couldn't afford them smoked Fortuna (or whatever local brand was available).

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Geoff Ingram replied to don simon fbpe | 2 months ago
2 likes

Ducados was the deadliest cheapo ciggie. Mercadona supermarkets now have a little área past the checkouts with a microwave, plastic cutlery and tables so you can wolf down your ready meal right there, in horrendously depressing ambiente. That this can happen in Spain makes me dispair for humanity

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don simon fbpe replied to Geoff Ingram | 2 months ago
0 likes

My first ciggy was a Ducados.

That's not all Mercadona, is it? I didn't see that last year in any of them. That's horrendous.

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FionaJJ | 2 months ago
9 likes

I definitely think better education on what's actually in the Highway Code would help a lot. It's not just that not all drivers know to give 1.5m space, or what 1.5m looks like, but too many drivers get angry at cyclists for committing the imagined crime of 'cycling in the middle of the road', which they still believe is done purely to annoy them.

There would be a lot less anger at cyclists if all drivers understood why cyclists are not cycling in the gutter. It would presumably help their blood pressure too. A bonus benefit for the NHS.

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bensynnock replied to FionaJJ | 2 months ago
5 likes

The key to that understanding is to get more drivers out of their cars and onto bikes.

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chrisonabike replied to bensynnock | 2 months ago
9 likes

...yes, and the key to that is getting past "but I'm not cycling, because nobody else does and because it's inconvenient / unpleasant / too dangerous because of all the other drivers".

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marmotte27 replied to chrisonabike | 2 months ago
2 likes

...yes, and the key to that is getting past the capitalist me first and strongest wins mentality. We're in a complete vicious circle, where everything skews the wrong way.

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imajez replied to FionaJJ | 2 months ago
4 likes

In ye olde days there used to be government sponsored adverts on TV to influence behaviour and be generally informative. They normalised the wearing of seatbelts and rightly stigmatised drink driving. 
In the 70s the Netherlands stigmatised killing people with cars, children in particular and this was the impetus to change the previously car choked cities into cycling friendly places.
If advertisng didn't work, billions would not be spent on it

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