For many centuries we all walked everywhere. As in most parts of the world, technology, urbanisation and increasingly sedentary work environments and lifestyles, alongside ever increasing car use (allied to dispersed jobs, homes, goods and services) has meant opportunities for physical activity in our daily lives have declined in Scotland. It has also meant that places have been designed for cars, industry and services and less for people.
Physical inactivity contributes to over 2,500 premature deaths in Scotland each year (that is around 7 a day) and costs the NHS in Scotland around £94.1 million annually (within a sensitivity range estimated at £91.8 million to £96.4 million. Research illustrates that physical inactivity is the second biggest cause of global mortality (joint with smoking, after high blood pressure. Furthermore it is estimated that getting Scotland active would increase life expectancy by more than a year given our current inactivity levels. Walking, given its accessibility, has been highlighted as the most likely way all adults can achieve the recommended levels of physical activity.
There are many and varied potential gains from Let’s Get Scotland Walking – feeling healthier – physically and mentally; getting fitter; employers having a more productive workforce; more welcoming environments; feeling part of the community and less isolated; saving money on fuel and helping achieve Scotland’s low carbon targets; and local economies benefiting from increased footfall. Walking can also operate as an effective self-management tool for people with long-term health conditions such as arthritis. There are many examples of good work already being done in Scotland to promote walking (See Appendix 1) but much more can be done.
There are three main reasons for walking although not mutually exclusive:
- Functional (transport) – getting to school, work, the shops etc.
- Recreational – walking for pleasure, sport and active recreation and
- Health and wellbeing – walking to feel better (physically and mentally).
Walking is three times more popular (57%) as a recreational activity among Scottish adults, than the next most popular activity, swimming (18%) and football (7%). It is also the most popular activity for UK visitors to Scotland, with 88% enjoying long walks/hikes and 69% short walks/strolls, and is an activity that is more accessible to all ages and social groups, religions and cultures. Walking in this context includes the use of wheelchairs, buggies and similar mobility aids with the aim of ensuring easy and convenient independent mobility for all.
Walking along with cycling is the most sustainable means of daily travel. Walking requires only a fraction of the space needed for using a car, is more economical – both for the individual and in terms of investment in public infrastructure – and causes no noise or air pollution. For longer journeys, it is the most carbon-friendly link to and from public transport. It is affordable for everyone and therefore is the most equitable of all transport modes.
Walking is fun and free!