Published: 14th JANUARY 2021

Active travel is vital for ageing better

Recent studies have shown dramatic inequalities in health and longevity among older age groups. So we've teamed up with the Centre for Ageing Better to look at how walking and cycling can help towards better ageing. Here, our Director of Evidence and Insight, Andy Cope explains more about this project and why it's vital we support older people to be more active.

Couple sitting on park bench, looking at cyclist on coastal cycle path

It is vital that we take steps now to enable physical activity in mid-life in support of public health and wellbeing among our ageing population.

About the project

The project will help us to understand how we can support people aged 50-70 years to take up active travel.

It will also help us to maintain or increase their levels of active travel, as one way to increase levels of physical activity.

People aged over 65 years made up 18% of the UK population in 2018. .

It is vital that we take steps now to enable physical activity in mid-life in support of public health and wellbeing among our ageing population.

Addressing UK health inequalities

Recent studies have shown dramatic inequalities in health and longevity among older age groups.

('The Health of the Nation' by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Longevity) points out that although life expectancy has increased over the past 20 years, premature and avoidable ill health degrades our lives.

And the effects are far from evenly distributed.

For example: “people in our poorest areas are ill for 20 years longer than those in the most prosperous ones.”

Walking and cycling can help us in our response to the pandemic

There are two, recent landmark reports by the (‘’ and ‘’, both commissioned by the ).

These reports spell out how walking and cycling can help address both health inequalities and our response to the pandemic.

The ‘ten years on’ report spells out how improvements to life expectancy have stalled.

And it details how the health gap has grown between more affluent and less affluent groups, including among older groups.

The Covid-19 report details how inequalities in social and economic conditions before the pandemic contributed to the high and unequal death toll from the Coronavirus.

The mortality rate is much higher for older age groups, particularly those over 80 years, for men and for people with longstanding health conditions.

What can be done to close the gap?

The question that this invites is what measures can we take now that might serve to help to narrow these health inequalities in the coming years?

Clearly the solutions need to be very wide-ranging.

But the question of how we move around is a crucial component.

How we move around can help to determine how we access services, our working patterns, whether we can interact with others in our communities, and the extent to which we are physically active.

Our patterns of movement in turn are fundamental to air quality and carbon emissions which impact how we feel about our local areas and our wellbeing.

The Covid-19 Marmot Review report states that:

"The provision of policies for equitable active travel such as cycling and walking is highly important... to reduce health inequalities.

"…Active travel improves physical health and mental health as a result of the physical activity".

So the challenge is how to support people in making a decision to travel actively.

Understanding how people travel

Factors that may help us to understand how to encourage active travel among 50 to 70-year-olds include:

  • What are the characteristics of those who do and do not participate in active travel? How does this compare with patterns in other age groups? And among those who do walk and cycle, what sort of trips do they make?
  • What factors influence the attitudes of these groups to active travel? What are their past experiences of active travel? What motivates them to undertake active travel and what prevents them? What would motivate and/or enable people to try new forms of active travel such as e-bikes?
  • And what role does the built environment play in encouraging or discouraging active travel for those aged 50-70? What are the characteristics of the places where participation in active travel is high?

ߣߣƵ has already done a lot of work in these areas.

Most notably, our series on Cycling for everyone makes specific recommendations about how to increase cycling among disabled people, people from ethnic minority groups, and older people.

And the that ߣߣƵ has delivered with partners.

This research shows that safe routes support physical activity in groups for which exercise can fall below the recommended levels, including among older people.

Next steps

Over the coming months, we will be taking an even more in-depth look at these questions with the Centre for Ageing Better.

We aim to support the development of strategies that better enable active travel among people as we make the transitions that most people will experience between the ages of 50 and 70.

The Centre for Ageing Better expands on their interest in this area .

ߣߣƵ’ partners in this project are Dr Nick Cavill, Professor Adrian Davis and CfE Research.

We are grateful for the support of the Centre for Ageing Better.


Read more about the health benefits of walking and cycling.


Take a look at our ultimate guide to walking in your older age.

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