Health is something that is important to me, and for a long time I was trying to figure out how to get into youth health issues, which led me into topics on nature and brain development in children. But now I’m working on transportation issues, and biking to work, and seeing public health in an entirely different way.
There is a ton of research being done on the rising health crisis in America, the obesity numbers, the diabetes numbers, hypertension, and so on. It’s horrifying, and depressing.
The amount of money that will be spent on health care AFTER people have developed all these diseases is staggering, and depressing, especially considering that all the evidence points towards a really simple preventative measure – exercise. This doesn’t mean we will all be forced to spend hours in the gym; exercise can accumulate in small increments over the day to reach to optimal 30 minutes a day that health experts now say we all need. This means walking to the bus stop counts towards exercise, getting off the bus a stop earlier, walking to the Metro station, or even parking as far away from the office or grocery store or mall as possible, to walk a bit further to get to your destination. And as you may have guessed by now, this means public transportation is a key component to improving the health of all Americans. I just wrote a blog about it for work, which was reposted on Mobility Lab’s website, highlighting a few studies that show benefits of getting around without a car.
Yes, I bike to work, but guess what? I actually did not bike Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, due to a variety of reasons (including being sick). So instead I walked to the bus stop, took the bus to the Metro station, then walked from the Metro station to my office, or the meetings in DC I attended. I felt guilty for not biking, and knew I wasn’t getting in as much exercise, but at least I knew I was walking around in between transit options. So I’m not jumping on my bandwagon here and proclaiming that everyone has to bike – I’m simply saying that not driving everywhere and talking alternative means of transportation, whether that means bus, Metro, walking, or biking, is a great way to work in some exercise.
The other component of this is urban planning and healthy communities. Obviously, there are some areas where it’s simply more dangerous to walk or bike, because the communities are not designed to be friendly at all to these options. Dr. Jackson’s “Designing Healthy Communities” explores some of these, and he demonstrates by trying to cross a main road where there is no crosswalk.
So cities need to rethink their expansion and their improvements, and make sure that roads are safe for drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, the elderly and the mobility-challenged, and the young. However, we as those drivers, pedestrians, cyclists and so on need to advocate for these changes as well, or officials will not realize that we want them.
I am looking forward to getting more involved in these issues in the future, and hope to see increased public conversation about transportation as a key solution to health problems.