Walkways urged to cut premature deaths

Posted 21 Mar 2012 by MediaStuff Popular
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Christchurch's rebuild should encourage physical activity as lack of exercise is one of the leading causes of premature death, a visiting Northern Ireland health expert says.

Dr Mark Tully, of Queen's University in Belfast, gave a public lecture in Christchurch on Tuesday on the effects of urban environments on people's exercise habits.

"People get in their cars, they drive to work and most of us sit at our desks," he said.

"A recent study in the US found that for a lot of people, the walk from their car to work was the most physical activity they would do in a day."

Tully said the earthquakes had provided an opportunity to develop connected walkways in the central city and suburban hubs that would attract people to walk from their homes.

"You obviously need walkways or cycleways that go somewhere ... The more destinations people have to go to, the more likely they are to go there."

Amenities closer to home would also encourage more physical activity, Tully said.

"Christchurch needs to influence the rest of the world through the rebuild. The healthiest choice needs to be the easiest choice."

His presentation referred to several international studies that showed accessible and user-friendly pathways, cycleways and parks had significant health benefits.

"I've often thought about how I can make people do more physical activity. Should I prod them with a cattle stick? No, we have to make physical activity a part of everyday life," he said.

Architects, health professionals and Christchurch City Council urban planners were among those who attended the lecture at the Philatelic Centre in Mandeville Rd in Riccarton.

Tully said research showed that if a public space was regularly used there would be less chance of vandalism, littering or graffiti.

Physical inactivity is the fourth leading cause of premature death after high blood pressure, smoking and high glucose, he said.

There were similarities between Belfast and Christchurch.

"Redeveloping Belfast since the economic downturn has given us these opportunities," he said.

"There are vacant sites where buildings used to be, but there's also the chance to rethink things.

"That's very similar to the current situation in Christchurch and I hope that we make the most of that."

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