Three people ride on a painted bike lane with white bollards in the road to their left, with a blue parking meter on the footpath to their right and traffic in the road alongside the lane.
We need to move more but our streets aren’t helping

This article was first published in The Mercury newspaper, written by Alison Hetherington and Dr Verity Cleland

We’ve all been there.

You know you need to exercise more but you just can’t work out how to fit it into the day. It becomes yet another task you have to juggle.

And when you don’t manage to get to the gym, training or pool, you feel you’ve failed.

Contrary to popular belief, exercising doesn’t have to be in long, intense sessions to give you health benefits. Three lots of ten minutes throughout the day is just as good for you as one 30 minute session.

But fitting physical activity into our days, even in small blocks, feels difficult.

Many of us drive to get around, our jobs are desk based and our homes are filled with appliances that mean cleaning the floor or washing the clothes no longer raises our heart rate.

Changing our transport habits for some trips is probably the easiest thing for us to do to fit activity into our daily lives.

Catching the bus can mean walking to the stop and then walking to your destination.

Walking the whole way for shorter trips can quickly add up to the exercise we need to stay healthy.

Riding can extend the length of the trips you can take to 5–10 kilometres, or even more with an e-bike.

Many Tasmanians would like to be more active in these ways, but too often our street design makes these choices unthinkable.

Footpaths – if they exist – can be narrow, uneven, poorly lit and lack priority to cross busy roads.

Riding on roads is out of the question for most of us because of the speed of traffic, distracted drivers and little space for bicycles.

And public transport may not take us to where we want to go at the times we want to be there.

Widening footpaths, improving path surfaces, providing pedestrian crossings, dropping speed limits and creating separated places for people to cycle and wheel creates a street environment that encourages people to be active.

That’s because such interventions make the roadway safer for all users.

Active streets are good for local businesses too, with pedestrians and cyclists more likely to stop and linger at shops and services.

Women, older people and children especially benefit as they are groups generally not comfortable riding with traffic. By providing clearly separated spaces, we can all choose to ride for transport.

Bicycles have been perfected to carry loads, which help people do more on a bike than they could walking. And e-bikes mean more of us can ride, can carry more and still get a physical benefit.

Helping people to be more active more often is critical for the health of all Tasmanians.

Regular physical activity decreases our risk of developing heart disease, diabetes and several cancers, boosts our immune system and improves our mental health.

More than 1300 Tasmanians die each year from heart disease and more than 11 300 are hospitalised. Being active keeps us out of hospitals and doctor’s waiting rooms and reduces the need for costly medicines.

However, the number of people getting the minimum 150 minutes of activity a week is worrying.

In Tasmania, this equates to some 150,000 people at risk of premature death because they aren’t supported to move enough.

Making time to be active throughout our day is so crucial for living a good life.

And governments should make it easier for Tasmanians by making our streets more inviting to walk, ride and wheel down.

Creating slower traffic streets with safer areas to walk and ride should be at the top of their list.

Alison Hetherington is the Public Affairs Manager Tasmania for Bicycle Network and Dr Verity Cleland is an Associate Professor at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research, University of Tasmania. They are the Deputy Chair and Chair of the Tasmanian Active Living Coalition.