Increased levels of walking and cycling extend the life expectancy of Waltham Forest residents by at least seven months

11 September 2018
Cycle hub near station
  • Independent report by world renowned academics at King’s College London shows gains in life expectancy from residents walking and cycling more
  • Changes in local streets and neighbourhoods support more active lifestyles for adults and children
  • More than 51,000 households in Waltham Forest are no longer living in areas with dangerously high levels of air pollution compared to a decade ago

The final part of an academic report has added further weight to the evidence that Waltham Forest residents are going to live longer, at least seven months longer, thanks to their increased physical activity. This increased activity has been, in part, brought about by changes introduced by the council to the road infrastructure and its promotion of active travel.

The report by King’s College London, commissioned by Waltham Forest Council, looked at the health impact that environmental and travel-related physical activity changes in the borough have had on residents.

The study concluded that the benefits of routine walking and cycling activity, which has increased in recent years, is estimated as a gain of around 204,000 life years (a life year is one person living for one year) for the population over a lifetime. This represents an increase in life expectancy of between seven to nine months in Waltham Forest.

The King’s study also looked at the impact of projections in increased walking and cycling during the school run in the borough, partially due to behaviour change following the recent road improvements through the Enjoy Waltham Forest programme. The report indicates that the projection, assuming the largest increase in school run walking and cycling, would result in a gain in life expectancy of around three weeks.

This supports research by Dr Rachel Aldred of Westminster University showing neighbourhoods with Mini-Holland interventions across Waltham Forest, Enfield and Kingston are walking an extra 32 minutes a week and cycling an average of nine extra minutes a week compared to Londoners living outside of the mini-Holland boroughs.

Since 2015 the Enjoy Waltham Forest programme, funded by the Mayor of London, has facilitated behavioural change and promoted active travel by delivering 37 road filters to motor vehicles and two part-time road closures, the construction of 22km of segregated cycle lanes, 104 improved pedestrian crossings, 15 new pocket parks and the planting of more than 660 new trees. Speed limits have also been reduced to 20mph in most residential roads and some main routes. In addition the programme has delivered more secure cycle parking infrastructure including 250 Bikehangars, free cycle skills training, and bike hire to encourage more people to get on a bike regularly.

These measures help to deliver the Mayor of London’s aim to make London’s streets healthier as research shows that if every Londoner walked or cycled for 20 minutes a day, it would save the NHS £1.7bn in treatment costs over the next 25 years.

The report was completed before figures from the Department for Transport were released at the end of August, which showed that residents in Waltham Forest were the most active of the outer London boroughs in 2017. More than 40 per cent of adults reported that they walked five times a week, making our residents the keenest walkers in the capital behind City of London. In 2017 the borough became the best outer London borough for cycling five times a week, and the sixth highest across London – a rise from 11th the year before.

Councillor Clyde Loakes, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for the Environment, said: “This report adds even more evidence of the benefit of increased exercise on our resident’s life expectancy.

“These reports show that the effort we’ve put in to enable and encourage our residents to be more active and removing non-local traffic from our residential roads is working.

“But there are still an estimated 270 people in Waltham Forest dying prematurely as a result of poor air quality which is why we recently published our Air Quality Action Plan to tackle this public health crisis.”

Dr Heather Walton of King’s College London said: “This is the first time we have developed a method to analyse the effect of physical activity from walking and cycling on life expectancy in the same way as we do for air pollution. While the general benefits of increased physical activity on health are well known, it is interesting to see this made specific to the level of walking and cycling activity for travel in Waltham Forest. 

“The recent trend in activity, if maintained, is estimated to lead to a gain in life expectancy of seven to nine months on average, a gain of six weeks since 2006. This average is diluted by those who have lower levels of walking and cycling activity, so this could be improved further by encouraging more people to increase their activity, as the schemes in Waltham Forest aim to do.”

Heidi Alexander, Deputy Mayor for Transport, said: “The Mayor is doing all he can to help clean up our toxic air, including investing a record £2.2 billion in making London’s streets more attractive to people who want to walk and cycle.

“Waltham Forest is leading the way on creating healthier streets and we want more boroughs to follow their example. Investing in local infrastructure not only improves road safety, but has a direct impact on public health as well. This is important for all of us, but especially the next generation.“

Last month King’s College London and Waltham Forest Council published the first part of their report which found that five-year-olds living in the borough are predicted to live an extra six weeks longer due to improvements in air quality and the borough’s residential street designs since 2013, through programmes like Enjoy Waltham Forest.

The council also announced that additional research carried out by Air Quality Consultants has shown that the number of households exposed to more than the EU recommended maximum amount of Nitrogen Dioxide has dropped dramatically, from 58,000 in 2007 to just 6,300 in 2017.

This month, King’s College London and Waltham Forest Council have published the second part of the report which found that children born in 2006 in the borough are predicted to live an additional six weeks longer, due to the combined walking and cycling level improvements as projected to 2016, compared with activity remaining at 2006 levels.  The combined benefits of air pollution reductions and increased physical activity double the life-expectancy gains to about three months compared with levels of physical activity and air pollution staying as they were in the baseline year (2006 for physical activity; 2013 for air pollution).

For trends in physical activity, King’s obtained London Travel Demand Survey (LTDS) data on numbers and duration of Waltham Forest walking and cycling trips from Transport for London which, when combined with relationships between physical activity and mortality, was used to calculate the gains in life-expectancy from the increases in walking and cycling in Waltham Forest.

You can read the King’s College London report on air quality improvements in Waltham Forest here.