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Walking is the most accessible and affordable way to get exercise. Walking promotes mental and physical health and is recognised by the WHO as an essential contributor to an individual’s physical activity needs.
People who live in walkable neighbourhoods have higher levels of “social capital,” and are more likely to know their neighbours, participate politically and be engaged socially.
One of the most significant benefits of encouraging and supporting walking is the effect on public health. Encouraging walking as a mode of travel helps increase the levels of physical activity among the population and has a positive impact on mental health and many non-communicable diseases, including cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Physical inactivity and increasingly sedentary lifestyles are causing a rise in obesity levels globally. As highlighted by Cavill et al. (2006), the traditional approach to health promotion, which focuses on personal counselling and mass marketing, is not sufficient in this case. It is necessary to provide an environment that supports active lifestyles and dedicating additional investment to improve walkability.
Levels of walking in many countries are relatively low and this is a major cause for concern. The recommended levels of 30 minutes a day of physical activity for adults are rarely being met, regardless of age group. Therefore, plans are needed to ensure the conditions for walking in cities are, supportive and encouraging of everyday walking.
Walking is the most inexpensive mode of transport and, in many places, the only mode available to the poorest groups of the population. Consequently, ensuring that there are safe, accessible and enjoyable conditions for travelling on foot, connecting key destinations – especially transit hubs, education sites, health care facilities, retail areas, sport and leisure amenities and employment zones – is a practical way of contributing to an equitable society.
In some regions, like Europe, the ageing population is restricting mobility due to physical impairments. Providing those with mobility impairments with a dignified place to walk and enjoy simply being on the street allows everyone to remain purposefully engaged in society and makes a therapeutic contribution to their condition.
Globally, it is known that women and young people walk more than others and therefore suffer disproportionately when walkability has not been planned and provided for.