Better Health

Car Busters 28, Sep - Dec 2006

Dear Anna
I aim to persuade my partner to drive less. He is getting fat, out of breath going upstairs and increasingly stressed and angry in the car. His asthma is getting worse and his body is seizing up. What can say?

Dear Worried
Better health is the top reason to cut car use. We are meant to be active. For adults, half and hour of moderate exercise most days is recommended. For kids it is an hour a day. Exercise builds strength, speed, dexterity, flexibility and endurance. Aerobic or dynamic exercises enhance the respiratory and cardiovascular systems and lead to weight loss, provided calorie intake is controlled. Research has shown that obesity in the UK is due to sloth, not extra food.

Getting fitter also brings better mental health. Stress is perceiving a potential threat, or thinking about issues which make you feel negative. It triggers the ‘fight or flight response’ where the nervous system enters red alert. Adrenaline and cortisol levels are elevated. These hormones arouse and enhance glucogenesis and the metabolism, but are poisons long term to the cardiovascular system and reduce immunity.

Being active improves circulation, aids cleansing and is calming if done non-competitively. Active travel is using our own power to get around - e.g. walking, cycling, jogging, running, scooting, boarding, blading, trikke etc. Even walking or cycling to the bus stop or train station is exercise. Active travel benefits us in personal, fairly immediate and tangible ways. As well as promoting health, active travel is time and money efficient. If you move using your legs you’ll have less need for recreational exercise, gym, sports or fitness class and won’t be on treadmills or exercise bikes. Enjoy life outdoors, not against a screen!

Also, healthy routes are often the most pleasant environments. Walkers and cyclists can increasingly choose off road paths through parks and by rivers where the air is pure and it’s peaceful. Walkers and cyclists enjoy air quality that is three times cleaner than in a car. Cars are in the middle of the road where pollution is worst. Enjoying nature is calming (if the weather is not too hostile or you are prepared with the right clothing). Get and study local walking and cycling maps - ask your council/local authority.

Persuade your partner to take responsibility for his health by recognising his problems. Calculate your Body Mass Indices online eg Enter gender, age, height and weight and it displays results from underweight to obese.

Help him by being active together. You’ll improve his motivation and provide company. List your regular car journeys and work out some active alternatives, shortest first.

Comfortable shoes and rain protection are all that’s needed to walk. Walking cuts the chances of osteoporosis and cross trains as legs and arms advance on opposite sides. This balances the body and centres the mind. Walkers also enjoy more interactions with neighbours.

Walk more when using public transport by using a stop further away. This might also save money. For instance, I often alight early when visiting my mum. The closest stop is in an extra fare zone and the walk is via a playground that my daughter loves.

When driving, park close to the entrance to a car park where it is easy to find space and walk. This saves fuel, often saves time and reduces danger to pedestrians than otherwise cruising for a closer space. Park further away from your home, if this doesn’t annoy neighbours. You’ll be less tempted to drive short trips.

Regular cyclists enjoy the health of someone 10 years younger according to the British Medical Association. For daily transport, you’ll need a well maintained bike with lights, mud guards and ideally some carrying method (rucksack, panniers or basket) plus waterproofs. If your bike is rusting, buy a service at a cycle shop. If you are scared, try cycle training and quiet routes. A power assisted electric bike could be a solution to hills or long distances. Cycle parking is growing at public transport interchanges. Cycle part way then use a bus or train for fast links to town centres.

Driving is stressful because it might kill or seriously injure. Letting a professional drive is safer. Though public transport might take longer, you could work, relax or give full attention to people. Road rage is rising with congestion. If a train is seriously delayed you can be refunded. But if you are stuck in a jam or there is nowhere to park, blood pressure and tempers often rise.

Put up signs at your doors encouraging you to get active and for success at cutting car use. You’ll be fitter, leaner, breathe deeper and feel calmer.

Anna Semlyen is the author of Cutting Your Car Use We are actively looking for publishers and authors in other countries (except North America). Email

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