Lifestyle Medicine, Main blog page, Other topics

Active transport – why it’s good for both you & the planet

What is active transport?

Active transport (also known as active mobility or active travel) is a method of transport that only utilises the physical activity of an individual. Examples of active transport are running, walking, cycling, skateboarding and roller skating.

“The NHS can make a significant contribution to tackling the public health challenges of obesity and climate change by promoting active travel and reducing dependency on the car by encouraging people to travel by bicycle, on foot, or by public transport.

Caroline Flint MP, Previous Minister of State for Public Health (2005-2007)

How is it linked to both our health & the planet’s?

Reduced physical activity and its associated health issues has been seen with the increasing use of car and vehicle transportation. Almost a third of our greenhouse gas emissions come from the transportation sector 1. This in turn contributes to climate change. We are beginning to understand how in turn climate change negatively impacts are own health – with the mental and physical health impacts of more regular extreme weather events, eco-anxiety, increases in vector-borne diseases, reduction in clean water supply and food production to name just a few.

Air pollution is particles and gases suspended within the air. Examples are wide and varied, from pollen to methane and carbon dioxide and particulate air pollution. Particulate air pollutants are solids or liquids suspended in the air. It is thought that the smaller air pollutants are associated most greatly with poor health outcomes, as they can get deeper into our lungs into where gas exchange arises2.

For our health

“Physical activity must be one of the most undervalued interventions to improve public health”

Sir Liam Donaldson – previous Chief Medical Officer for England

The WHO determined that physical inactivity was the 4th leading risk factor for global deaths 3. The health benefits of physical activity are vast:

health benefits of physical activity.png

Picture source:

See one of my previous blogs for some of the Chief Medical Officer’s (CMO) physical activity guidelines for the UK.

Pollution as a whole is the biggest cause of environmental-related disease and death in the world4. Pollution caused 3 times more premature deaths in 2015 than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined and 15 times more than all violence and wards combined4 – WOW!.

Children and the elderly are at high risk of pollution-related ill health. In the former even low-dose exposures to pollutants from in utero to early childhood can have negative health impacts4.

For the planet’s health

There are many ways in which air pollution effects our planet’s environment negatively. Here are some ways:

Acid rain

This is precipitation (rain, snow, fog or dry precipitation) which contains harmful amounts of acidic compounds such as nitric and sulfuric acids. These acids in the air are made primarily made by the burning of fossil fuels. Wind can carry these harmful compounds hundreds of miles. Acid rain can damage trees and acidifies soils and water sources, making them uninhabitable for some fish and other wildlife.


This is when high concentrations of nutrients such as nitrogen are present in water bodies and cause large blooms of algae. These algae blooms in turn lead to the death of fish and reduction in aquatic biodiversity. Whilst a natural process, human activity, including air pollution, is accelerating the process.

Biodiversity loss

Hazardous air pollutants can affect wildlife in the air, the soil or surface waters. Air toxins have been associated with birth defects, reduced fertility and disease in several animals5. Toxins can bioaccumulate up the food chain, so they are higher in animals at the top of it.

Tree and crop damage

Air pollution can lead to reduced yields of food crops and reduced growth & survival of young trees. Plants can also become more susceptible to disease, pets and harsh weather conditions.

Climate change

The release of greenhouse gases by human activity is disrupting the delicate balance of naturally-occurring gases which trap some of the heat near our Earth’s surface and is causing the planet to warm – known as global warming. This warming can have huge impacts I’m sure you’re aware of – from melting ice caps and rising sea levels, to more extreme weather events and loss of habitat for many wild animals.

Active transport is also good for the bank balance!

We’re not great at meeting the physical activity guidelines nationally:

how bad are we at physical activity

Picture source:

Lack of physical activity is costing the UK an estimated £7.4 billion a year, including £0.9 billion to the NHS alone6.

In the UK, it is estimated that there are 10, 500 hospital admissions for lung problems in urban areas each year directly due to air pollution, which costs the NHS over £17 million7.

As the price of fuel rises, active transport is becoming more and more economical too!

As you can see, I hope, from this blog that getting physically active – whether that be for your commute or just when running some errands – can be hugely beneficial for your own health and for the health of our planet. I hope this inspires you to take up getting on that bike, walking or maybe even some roller blades to get around! Let me know!

Emma x

  1. Greenhouse gas emissions from transport in Europe — European Environment Agency. Available at: (Accessed: 21st December 2019)
  2. Dockery, D. W. Health Effects of Particulate Air Pollution. Ann. Epidemiol. 19, 257–263 (2009).
  3. WHO | Physical Activity. Available at: (Accessed: 21st December 2019)
  4. Landrigan, P. J. et al. The Lancet Commission on pollution and health. The Lancet 391, 462–512 (2018).
  5. Department of Environmental Protection. Health & Environmental Effects of Air Pollution. (2016).
  6. Health matters: getting every adult active every day – GOV.UK. Available at: (Accessed: 21st December 2019)
  7. Sustainable Development Commission. Healthy Futures: Sustainable Transport & Active Travel. (2007).

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