Pedalling the idea for a fitter Scotland

Sir Chris Hoy and Ross Edgar encourage members of the public to get on their bikes. Picture: SNS
Sir Chris Hoy and Ross Edgar encourage members of the public to get on their bikes. Picture: SNS
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The Glasgow Commonwealth Games should be a clarion call to the whole population to make changes leading to a healthier life, says Dave Morris

The First Minister has big ambitions for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. He hopes the Games “will inspire people to take up sport or embrace a healthier lifestyle”. How many will heed the call? The challenge is huge, with only 39 per cent of Scotland’s adult population currently being active enough to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Picture: Phil Wilkinson

Picture: Phil Wilkinson

No nation appears to have achieved fundamental changes in lifestyles, across the population as a whole, as a result of a major sporting event, despite all the promises. Can Scotland do better?

At least the London Olympics in 2012, followed by Andy Murray’s inspiring achievement at Wimbledon this year, appears to have stimulated some increase in sport and physical activity. There are more cyclists on the roads and mountain bikers in the hills. Sports clubs need more coaches as enthusiastic youngsters queue at the door. More children are getting more physical education and sporting opportunity and, at long last, GPs are mentioning the problems of inactivity to those patients who wheeze into the surgery.

Scandinavian lifestyle

We need to look elsewhere to see more people being more active and enjoying life. Bringing Scotland closer to the lifestyles of the Scandinavian countries would be a good start. There, contact with nature and enjoyment of outdoor recreation is an integral part of everyone’s life from their earliest years, even in weather conditions similar to our own. It is normal for people to walk and cycle for everyday journeys. This is the natural choice for short trips, thanks to years of sensible investment in transport infrastructures that put people before motor vehicles.

We need to motivate people to get the bike out of the garage, to get off the bus a few stops early, to park the car and walk a good distance to the office. Once there, the lifts can be ignored by most people and the lunch break should include a walk as well as a sandwich. Children need to walk or cycle to school, not be delivered to the door in a 4x4. Stand outside a school in Norway and see the masses of bicycles parked against every wall. This is not rocket science.

Our TAKE 30 website (www.take30.co.uk) provides the simplest message – aim for a brisk walk for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. If you manage a hotel, hostel, office, school, sports centre, café, pub or indeed anywhere that people congregate, you could help us to deliver the 2014 legacy by developing Medal Routes. From a central walking hub, short walking routes are mapped by volunteers providing 15, 30 and 60 minute walks on existing paths. These Bronze, Silver and Gold Medal Routes help people to explore new places, in their local community or further afield and are available on a leaflet or our website (www.ramblers.org.uk/scotland).

In addition, every school should establish a walking club so that all those who do not like formal sport, or have “forgotten their PE kit today” are still getting plenty of exercise as an integral part of the curriculum, in or around the school.

Sir Chris Hoy’s legacy

Motivation is the priority, but transportation redesign is close behind. When Chris Hoy stood with three gold medals around his neck at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 he spoke about legacy: “I want to make it safer for kids to ride bikes, for anyone to ride bikes; to have meaningful bike paths, not just a couple of painted lines on the side of the road in which you still get huge, big gutters and cars parked on the pavement.” And now, with more medals and another Olympics behind him, does Sir Chris wonder what has been achieved, across the UK, in the last five years? Spending just 1 per cent each year from the Scottish transport budget on walking and cycling provision will never meet the aspirations of our greatest Olympian.

The cornerstone of the 2014 legacy needs to be a massive increase in walking and cycling, across the whole population. Scotland needs a ten-year plan and money to support it. If the First Minister is serious about legacy he needs to launch this plan as the 2014 Games open. By 2024 we need Edinburgh, Glasgow and other Scottish cities to be no different to Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Oslo, with our streets full of walkers and cyclists, and with most of the cars and trucks elsewhere.

If we achieve this, as a result of the 2014 Games, Scotland will have set the world standard for delivering physical activity benefits from a major sporting event. Get off your bum and go for it!

• Dave Morris is director of Ramblers Scotland www.ramblers.org.uk/scotland

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