I hope everyone is keeping well. It is difficult these days not to think of the circumstances created by the COVID-19 crisis and their implications for all dimensions of our lives and our society. The field of physical activity promotion is certainly not immune to the potential ramifications of lockdown measures and other restrictions and changes to our usual way of life brought about by the pandemic, changes that may be in place for longer than we initially anticipated according to public health experts. For example, I was reading with interest recent reports in the media that a rare upside to the virus outbreak that has caused major disruption to Irish life has been a big increase in reported exercise rates. Perhaps because a major focus of my work is on promoting walking and cycling, I was even more intrigued by a recent article in the Science and Environment section of the BBC News about “how coronavirus is driving a revolution in travel”. The article reported how, in response to the current circumstances, many cities and towns across the UK are taking measures to encourage walking and cycling as alternative to motorised transportation. Importantly, the journalist explained that although most of the changes being brought in around the country are a temporary response to the coronavirus crisis, many local authorities state that – after consultation with local communities – they are intent on making them permanent. Sign of the times, the article also reports how last week, the government announced a “once in a generation” investment to change the way Britain gets around.
Because of the nature of my research work, and growing concerns about the environment, I find this news exciting and hope the example spreads outside of the UK. Clearly, there is a window of opportunity opening up in front of us. On the other hand, the more cynical part in me wonders: Did we really need this pandemic to get here? As for the news of sharp increases in reported exercise rates in Ireland (although caution is warranted concerning their accuracy and whether they may reflect a passing trend), did we really need this crisis to realise the benefits of exercise and of adopting a physically active lifestyle? Substantial evidence generated over many years of research demonstrates these benefits.
Is there something we have not been doing well to communicate these benefits and help individuals and groups translate this knowledge into attitudes and actual changes in lifestyle behaviour?
I leave you today with these thoughts. Stay well and active.
Dr Enrique Garcia Bengoechea is the inaugural Dean’s Fellow in Physical Activity and Health in the Faculty of Education and Health Sciences at the University of Limerick. His current research interest’s include community based physical activity and health promotion and sport as context for youth development and socialization. You can contact Dr Bengoechea via email at Enrique.Garcia@ul.ie or follow his research profile on Researchgate