The stress and rush of everyday life makes families look for ways to keep their day-to-day schedule on track. Using a car even for short trips has become a socially accepted norm. But what would happen if families could adopt a more active way of making these trips? “This would have a large impact on health, physical fitness and unhurried time spent with children,” says professor Petri Tapio, who has studied the challenges of active way of life in the University of Turku. Skills and habits of physically active travel learned at a young age predict behaviour also in adulthood. Exercising your way to and back from school is a repeated, cheap and easy way to be active. You could start the challenge with small actions: include an “active day” in your week, during which all short trips are taken by foot, bike or maybe even a scooter.
Rush dictates everyday choices
The fast pace and performance-centric perspective of modern society is closely linked to our physical activity. The heavy burdens of working life, combined with the day-to-day struggles of managing all family members’ hobbies as well as household chores, understandably drive people to look for solutions that make everyday life easier. However, everyday trips and the way people choose to make these trips are one of the most important factors when it comes to the issue of physical inactivity.
Physically active moving from place to place, as a main or complementary method of everyday transport, is a central way of achieving a sufficient amount of physical activity among the different population groups. In other words, when cycling and walking are chosen as the everyday transport methods, most of the necessary daily physical activity can be achieved almost without even noticing it. Additionally, it also sets an example that, at best, can determine a child’s habits and behaviours even when they are older.
Our everyday lives have changed so that physical activity is no longer a natural part of everyday life.
“We live in a car ride culture where children’s ways of moving are closely connected to the choices of adults. Instead of walking with the child to a daycare centre, school or a hobby, for example, parents give them rides even on short trips,” Petri Tapio says.
When the thought of ‘being on time’ is linked to ways of transport, even the lives of busy people can easily become sedentary. “Being busy is also a part of being a decent citizen, and it is a way to gain respect. If leisure time, too, is considered to consist of one performance after another, day-to-day life will easily become dependent on car rides,” Tapio continues.
Safety is an important value – but are we sometimes even too focused on it?
Being safety-oriented emerged as one obstacle to an active way of life in the study by Petri Tapio and his research team. One topic that brings up a great deal of discussion is children’s school trips, and the many misconceptions related to them. Cycling is considered dangerous, even though the biggest safety risk to children are the people driving their children to school and the cars on the schoolyard.
Fear of accidents makes parents deny the natural, physically active ways of transport from their children. They are afraid of children climbing trees, falling into ditches or getting injured while sledding. “Unfortunately, the consequence of this is that if a child’s body does not get used to bumps and jolts, they will be more vulnerable to injuries at an older age. Paradoxically, excessive safety can therefore even decrease safety,” Tapio says and continues: “With regard to traffic safety, it’s obvious that a child must be respectful of the thousand-kilo metal boxes that speed past them at a close distance. But this is not the same thing as believing that the only way to be safe from these boxes is to travel in one them.”
Physically active transport methods could help meet the recommendations of sufficient physical activity
We do not claim that increasing activity can happen by itself or would not require some work. It requires us to change our ways of thinking and question our habits, and it also takes a little sense of adventure. We challenge you to think about whether being in a rush is always necessary? Could physically active transport be combined with daily routines through reorganising these routines a little? “What if you, a parent, changed your daily rhythm by limiting your own screen time, doing fewer things and utilising some of your daily trips for getting more exercise? The stressful combination of rushing and laziness would give way to a state where enough time is reserved for all the different things, and walking and cycling the distances between places would offer time for calming down and relaxing mentally in the middle of the day,” Tapio says.
“Using public transport, for example, gives you time to browse your mobile device, walking to the public transport stops is physical activity, and while the children are in their hobbies, you can go for a walk or use the walk to and from the hobby location as a warm-up and cool-down exercise,” Tapio says, giving a few tips for increasing physical activity.
The seeds of an active way of life are sown very early in life, and similar results apply to using physically active transport methods. If you do not learn physically active transport methods when you are young, the threshold for adopting them later in life can be even higher. Everyday choices are strongly linked to a person’s well-being, but also to climate and environmental perspectives. An example learned through actions is a powerful factor when the child first starts to make their own choices on how to get around.
The people interviewed for the article were professor Petri Tapio from the STYLE project of the University of Turku’s Finland Futures Research Centre and his research team, researcher Jonne Silonsaari, docent of environmental politics Riikka Paloniemi (SYKE) and Anu Tuominen, senior researcher at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. You can read more about the “STYLE: Liikunnallisen elämäntavan haasteita ja ratkaisuja” study here.
Based on the most recent passenger survey (2016), 50% of 1–2 kilometre-long trips are made by or on a car in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area.