Top public health advisor gets on her e-bike and encourages others to walk or cycle to work

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The person responsible for improving Oxfordshire’s public health is leading by example by swapping her usual transport to work for an e-bike to promote active and healthy travel.

Val Messenger, Oxfordshire’s Interim Director of Public Health, oversees a major push to encourage residents to get active and build exercise into their daily routine. Now she is benefiting from her own medicine.

She explains: “Parts of Oxfordshire are hilly, so slogging up a gradient on a pedal powered commute is no fun. It’s certainly put me off; until now!

“Electrically assisted bikes, which include an electric motor to aid propulsion, mean conquering hills has become a breeze. And it’s not a cheat either!”

Val has been inspired by the six Oxfordshire councils’ support for the OVO Energy Women's Tour professional bike race, which passes through the county on 12 June 2019. She hopes others will join her by cycling or walking to work.

Thirty minutes e-cycling has the same health benefits as a half-hour brisk walk.

Evidence suggests the physical activity involved in e-cycling is greater than for walking; but less strenuous than using a traditional bike.

Data from Public Health England shows that people who regularly walk or cycle for everyday purposes, such as travelling to work and shopping, are far more likely to meet the Chief Medical Officer’s physical activity guidelines.

E-cycling can also help improve cardiorespiratory fitness in physically inactive individuals and of course there are knock on positive impacts to mental well-being.

Val said: “I’ve started cycling to work on my electric bike, but that’s only the start. I’m striving to make as many journeys as I can actively, either cycling or through brisk walks. The car spends more time on the drive these days, and I’m saving loads by not needing to top it up.”

Val’s commute starts in Wheatley. She usually cycles through Horspath and Headington, to County Hall in central Oxford, a return journey of 14 miles. But occasionally adds a few minutes to the trip for the opportunity of taking in the scenery along the Thames path.

Mark, from Bike Zone, 28-32 St Michael's Street in Oxford, said: "E-Bikes are for everyone, they enable everyone to do something... get active and healthy again, leave the car at home on the commute, or go further and explore our beautiful countryside. I can't remember the last time a customer hasn't come back with a huge grin after a test-ride."

Ben Spencer, a researcher on active travel from Oxford Brookes, said: “Our cycle BOOM project offered people aged 50 and over the chance to zoom off on an e-bike for eight weeks.

“The demand from Oxford residents was huge. They wanted them for personal fitness and weight loss; rehabilitation after an illness; and to ride socially. We found that e-bikers cycled longer and further than those pedalling traditional bikes and had bigger mental health benefits from their cycling.”

For more details, see the project website www.cycleboom.org

Oxfordshire County Council’s Public Health team, led by Val, seeks to promote, improve and protect the health of local people. It’s all part of the commitment to thriving communities – helping people live safe, healthy lives and play an active part in their community.

Over a third of adults are not currently active at recommended levels. Val and her team are determined to improve this statistic across the county; and they are not alone.

Many of Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s HQ team, in Kidlington, cycle to work, completing an accumulated mileage of 811 per week. That’s an average of over 10 miles per person every week.

In a recent survey of county council employees, nearly 25% of respondents said they cycled or walked to work. The council is committed to encouraging ‘active travel’ by offering staff a Cycle to Work scheme; pool bikes are available at some of the council's offices.

Oxfordshire is expecting economic and health benefits from hosting the prestigious OVO Energy Women’s Tour professional cycling race, which will pedal through the county on Wednesday 12 June 2019.

“We want this prestigious race to leave a legacy for the county; a lasting economic impact, motivating people to be more active and improve their health,” says Val.

“Residents are encouraged to line the route and welcome the pro-cyclists through their towns and villages. If you’re travelling to a vantage point, why not walk or cycle?

“Leave the car at home, or least make part of your journey active, and get some exercise as a spectator.”

Watch That’s Oxfordshire TV’s news report here