A study published in The Lancet today says traffic fumes in city streets 'largely wipe out exercise benefits for over-60s', after they compared participants walking in Hyde Park and down Oxford Street.

Tompion Platt, Head of Policy, Living Streets comments:

For some older people, walking is the only exercise they can do and they should be able to do so anywhere if they’re to stay active, healthy and included in society. 

Any suggestion that older people should only walk in green spaces is ludicrous. The solution isn’t to restrict where people walk, it’s to clean up the air.

The study published in The Lancet identifies air pollution and other environmental factors, including noise levels on traffic-filled streets, as being detrimental to the health of older people. Indeed, air pollution is harmful to all of us and most UK cities are failing to tackle the levels of traffic responsible for it.  

The evidence is clear, the only way to solve the problem of illegal air pollution is through the introduction of charging clean air zones and prioritising walking, cycling and public transport. 

London is leading the way with its T-Charge and an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) but - on the whole - other UK cities have been hesitant to take real action to reduce vehicle dominance.

Local authorities and cities are responsible for tackling air pollution but can’t solve these problems alone, there needs to be national leadership.

Report findings like this are exactly why Oxford Street needs to be pedestrianised. When Oxford Street goes vehicle-free, there is a significant drop in air pollution levels. We want this to be the case 24/7, not just for special events. We believe Oxford Street can be a truly inviting and open place for everyone to enjoy and set a new standard for towns and cities across the UK.

Tompion Platt, Living Streets

Should I still walk?

YES!

Some news reports are suggesting that pollution in some parts of the capital is so bad that it negates the health benefits of exercise – but this isn’t what the study in The Lancet shows. 

The study only observed older adults who are more likely to have pre-existing respiratory conditions which are exasperated by air pollution.

Research into a wider demographic shows the health benefits of active travel still outweigh the risk from pollution.

So don’t be put off walking – get out and be part of the solution.