This is a fantastic summer for sporting events, with all the excitement of the World Cup, Wimbledon, the Tour de France and, next week, the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. But the fact is that most of us will only be taking part in these international sporting events from the comfort of our sofas.
Spending too much time sitting down affects most of our lives. The medical evidence points to the need for most of us to be more active, but despite all exhortations to do a bit more exercise, the number of Scots meeting the recommended minimum guidelines for physical activity has hardly increased over the past decade.
Can we change this? Can the sporting excellence we are watching on television inspire us? Can the Commonwealth Games in particular inspire the whole population to get fit? That doesn’t mean we’ll all take up a new sport, be it weightlifting, rugby or throwing the javelin. The easy answer is available to just about everyone: walk and cycle more.
Within ten years Scotland could become a healthy nation if most people accept that walking or cycling are essential parts of a modern lifestyle. This would be the most important legacy benefit to be delivered by the 2014 Commonwealth Games. As host city, Glasgow could set the standard for the rest of Scotland. By constraining the use of motor vehicles, Glasgow can demonstrate, like Amsterdam, Copenhagen or Munich, how there are far better ways to move about a city. It just needs public and political will.
Thousands of people will come to realise, as they travel between Games venues, that being on foot, on a bicycle or using public transport is far better than sitting in yet another traffic jam, wasting motor fuel and burning off too few personal calories in a further extension of an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle. We must build on this public enthusiasm for self-propelled travel and look to change Scotland for ever.
In June the National Walking Strategy was launched by Michael Matheson MSP, Minister for Public Health. This document explains how, over the next ten years, if we are to deliver key Games legacy benefits, we must change our attitudes to walking, build the infrastructure to facilitate walking and make it easier for everyone to go for a walk. Implementing this strategy in an effective way should be the aim of every politician.
The National Walking Strategy launch was at the Helix Park near Falkirk, site of the Kelpies. Adjacent to the M9 between Stirling and Edinburgh, the Helix is a brilliant demonstration of how to turn a lump of derelict industrial land into a public facility of immense value. The heads and chief executives of every local authority in Scotland should be sent to the Helix in 2014 to see the future and marvel at how wide paths and plazas can cater for all users, whether on two feet, cycle, buggy or wheelchair, with adjacent grass and water for further adventure.
More inspiration for local authorities lies in the countryside near Kinross. The recent completion of a 14-mile trail around Loch Leven is bringing opportunities for the public to explore, enjoy and keep fit, as well as the establishment of new refreshment facilities at key locations on the trail. Ask an economist how to create jobs across Scotland and one answer would be the creation of new walking and cycling trails which bring jobs during construction and maintenance while local hotels, cafes, shops and pubs welcome the additional trade from new visitors.
So now is the time to get off the sofa and out of the door to see what is happening in the big wide world. Immediately after the Games, Ramblers Scotland is launching “Get Outdoors Weekend” on 9-10 August. We want everyone to use this opportunity to make a commitment to be more active. We’re inviting people to make a pledge to get outdoors on that weekend and then send us a photo of what they get up to. There’s even the chance of winning some exciting prizes –what better encouragement can there be to switching off the TV or computer and taking in some fresh air on a walk around your local park, along the coast or up a mountain? Start a new, fitter life now!
• Dave Morris is director of Ramblers Scotland www.ramblers.org.uk