Active Travel – barriers and enablers

Judith Davey 24/8/2021

In early August the Centre for Ageing Better  (CAB), in the UK, published Active travel and mid-life: Understanding the barriers and enablers to active travel, The CAB (https://www.ageing-better.org.uk/) is a charity which produces relevant and well-researched material on current issues related to ageing. It commissioned research on the barriers and enablers to participation in active travel for the 50-70 age group. The report draws on a wide range of relevant recent literature. This blog post looks at the results on barriers and enablers. The second blog post looks at findings on the role of the built environment in encouraging or discouraging active travel.  

Active Travel and its benefits

The promotion of “active travel” – defined as walking and cycling – is based on the belief that:

“being physically active helps to prevent and delay the onset and progression

of many age-related diseases and conditions that cause disability in later life. For individuals who have already developed a health condition, physical activity can help them manage their condition and maintain their functional ability, their independence and their quality of life as they grow older.”

Yet the UK data show that the proportion of people who are physically inactive (meaning they are doing less than 30 minutes of physical activity per week) generally increases with age, beginning to drop around the age of 50. About a quarter of adults aged 55-74 are currently inactive, and nearly half of all adults aged 75 and over. Active travel – walking or cycling for everyday journeys -is a key approach to increasing levels of physical activity.

What are the motives for active travel?

There appear to be two distinct sets of factors that influence participation in

active travel – 1. psychological, social and cultural factors, and 2. the impact of the built environment. Motivators for active travel, as found in the relevant literature, are –

Health benefits – this was the most important motivator, often expressed in general terms, such as ‘getting exercise’ or ‘helping the weight’, rather than specifically in relation existing health conditions or reducing the risk of developing health conditions. Mental health benefits (relaxation and stress reduction) are almost as likely to be identified as physical health benefits.

Enjoyment of the outdoors – expressed as enjoying fresh air, being in green spaces, feeling free, being open to social contact and feeling part of the community, were all noted in the literature. The report comments that ”protecting the environment”, “saving the planet” or “reducing carbon” was more likely to be mentioned by people aged 65 plus. It would be very interesting to know if these patterns would also apply in New Zealand.

Feeling free, independent and in control – this related especially to independence from cars.  Walking and cycling were seen as quicker and more predictable than car travel. This, of course might depend on location, whether in a city or a rural area, and also on the time of day.

Preparing for an active retirement – many people make a deliberate choice to become more active on retirement, perhaps because they find they have more time. Retirement, or the contemplation of it, can thus prompt changes in active travel habits.

What are the barriers to active travel?

Personal safety or feeling unsafe – older people may feel safer in a car than waking or cycling. And in some areas there are obstacles and hazards in the walking infrastructure. There has been considerable discussion in New Zealand about the hazards to pedestrians posed by other footpath users, such as scooters and, skateboarders. Not to mention advertising material, shop displays and outdoor café furniture.

Declining health or disability – people with health problems or a disability are less likely to see walking or cycling as viable alternatives to short car journeys. They may also be discouraged by lack of accessibility.

Prevailing car culture the car is commonly viewed as the ‘normal’ mode of transport. For many people, using the car has become habitual and a part of a normal lifestyle, even for short journeys. In rural areas, the car is often seen as essential for transport especially in the absence of public transport. 

A lack of motivation or desire to prioritise active travel – perceptions of not having the time, that it is “too far to walk”, and bad weather. This will be encouraged by perceptions of congestion and danger, already listed.

About Age Concern New Zealand 'on research'

At the heart of everything Age Concern does is a passion to see older people experience well-being, respect, dignity, and to be included and valued. We support, inform and advise older people on issues such as access to health care, transport, housing, financial entitlements, and social opportunities. We also work to combat real problems in our society, like elder abuse and neglect, chronic loneliness and social isolation. We provide specialist services with trained and qualified professionals able to give expert advice and assistance. Age Concern is a charity and relies on the support of volunteers and public donations to do much of the work we do. To help us help older people, please consider making a donation of your time or money. To see how, visit www.ageconcern.org.nz
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