Physical inactivity is one of the greatest challenges to the health and wellbeing of our population. An even greater challenge (and threat) is posed by the climate emergency.
By promoting physical activity, we can not only improve health and wellbeing, but we can also reduce our impact on the environment, for example by encouraging active travel. In the same way, promoting environmentally friendly initiatives can increase physical activity for example, by reducing car travel and improving walking and cycle opportunities and infrastructure.
At County Durham Sport, we promote Active Environments and Active Travel as core strategic priorities to tackle physical inactivity but also to reduce our environmental impact.
Our carbon footprint and our physical activity are related, but sometimes in quite surprising ways. We have considered local data to outline how physical activity, carbon emissions, and socioeconomic status all interact to create some complex challenges and some exciting opportunities.
The data analysis found that locally, those living in the least affluent parts of the county are much more likely to be inactive than those living in the wealthiest areas. Furthermore, those people living in the least affluent areas were emitting far less carbon than those living in the most affluent areas.
Therefore, people with the most wealth, are both most active AND emit the most carbon. Whilst those with the least wealth, are least active AND emit the least carbon.
No matter who we are in terms of our health and wellbeing, socioeconomic status, and stage in life, we are all faced with climate challenges which are likely to continue into the future. Nobody will be exempt from the climate emergency indefinitely. However, people face real challenges in everyday life which can impact on health and wellbeing, the environment and climate change – which are all inextricably linked.
For example, a person living on very limited income might not have the disposable funds to buy the clothing, equipment, or transport needed to engage in physical activity. Financial difficulties might even mean that physical activity is not a priority for them at all. In contrast, a wealthier person might be able to buy all of the sporting clothes, equipment, and transport they need to lead an active lifestyle. But in doing so, their carbon footprint is much higher!
Our challenge moving forward within County Durham, for those people living in the least affluent areas, is to reduce rates of physical inactivity without increasing carbon emissions. Whilst also ensuring that those people living in the most affluent places are supported to reduce carbon emissions, without also reducing physical activity levels.
How this will be progressed is very much still an ongoing topic for research and discussion. However, we need to:
- Continue to raise awareness and educate regarding climate change.
- Learn to appreciate local resources and get local information publicly available.
- Understand that improved health and wellbeing can both positively and negatively impact on climate change and this can be dictated by the environments in which we live, work, and play.