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 the health and wellbeing of local people, 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 infrastructure.
Active Environments and Active Travel are key priorities in the County Durham Sport strategy. We are passionate about creating a local environment where being active is an easy choice for everyone. What’s good for our health is also good for the health of the environment. The more we can get outdoors and active in nature, the less time we spend on more polluting activities (like driving) – and the more time we spend appreciating and protecting our natural environment! Our like-minded colleagues in Durham County Council are supporting us in this mission, with the creation of a specific working group jointly focused on the environment and physical activity.
To create the Active Environments we want to see, requires a complex systems approach. We need to tackle the problem from a variety of angles. Working in partnership with Durham County Council (whose Climate Emergency Response Plan has been developed in consultation with local people) we are uniting local strategists and policy-makers around a shared vision for a greener, healthier county through more opportunities for physical activity.
Steve Bhowmick (Environment and Design Strategic Manager, Environmental Services, Durham County Council) is leading the project to identify new opportunities to bring both physical activity and environmentally-friendly approaches into local strategy – in a complementary, joined-up manner. To support the project, County Durham Sport have employed Rachel Kurtz (PhD Researcher, Durham University). Rachel is reviewing existing local strategy documents to identify areas of local strategy which have (or have not) addressed the issues of physical inactivity and the climate emergency. This review will help us understand where a joined-up approach has already been adopted, and where a more joined-up approach could be encouraged.
“I am really pleased to be working with County Durham Sport to help identify areas of improvement and potential fusion in policy around physical activity and climate change/the environment. My own PhD looking at physical activity in primary schools is still in the early stages but there is a great deal of overlap and as someone who loves the outdoors, I am excited to be able to focus more broadly and include an environmental perspective too. The team have been very welcoming and I am finding the work really interesting. Most of all I appreciate the opportunity to contribute towards positive change around two issues of enormous personal, social and global importance.”
(Rachel Kurtz, PhD Researcher, Durham University – researching how schools and teachers promote movement in the classroom to support children’s learning and wellbeing)
A summary of this review will be presented to the County Durham Physical Activity Strategy Committee (PASC). By identifying gaps and opportunities in local strategy, we will provide the PASC with an evidence-base from which to discuss next steps to tackle inactivity and climate change together. As a leading member of the PASC, County Durham Sport will be shaping these discussions and working closely with our partners at Durham County Council and in Public Health to create positive change.