We have to take some level of responsibility for our health by keeping fit

The 'Ditch the Car' campaign has been launched by the Ipswich Star and received widespread backing.

The 'Ditch the Car' campaign has been launched by the Ipswich Star and received widespread backing. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

This week we had the publication of a new report by the British Heart Foundation saying that about 40% of people in Britain are putting their long-term health at risk by physical inactivity, writes Paul Geater.

The Ditch the Car campaign logo

The Ditch the Car campaign logo - Credit: Archant

Not only are they risking premature death and ill-health in old age, they are also putting a huge financial burden on the cash-strapped NHS.

The charity estimated the cost of treating people suffering from illnesses caused by physical inactivity at about £1.2bn a year.

There is no question that the NHS should provide treatment for those suffering from illnesses caused by their own actions – or inactions – but it is not at all unreasonable for doctors, charities like the BHF, or even the government itself to point out to all of us that we can, and probably should, help ourselves to avoid getting into this situation in the first place.

Whether we take that advice is up to ourselves – but we really shouldn’t complain if we end up with a preventable disease and someone points out that we could have avoided that condition if we had made different lifestyle choices.

The 'Ditch the Car' campaign has been launched by the Ipswich Star and received widespread backing.

The 'Ditch the Car' campaign has been launched by the Ipswich Star and received widespread backing. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

I know I am approaching this subject with a bit of the zealotry of a convert. I had a “lightbulb moment” a few months ago and switched from driving to work every day to walking, and more recently cycling.

This week the Ipswich Star launched its “Ditch the Car” campaign in a bid to persuade more people who live in the town to find other ways of getting to work, as infrequently as once a month if they feel worried about the idea. Once I started finding other ways of getting to work, I wanted to use them every day.

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I wish I’d done it years ago. As someone who’s been overweight all my life I’m well aware I may have already done my body irreversible damage although my 55+ health check saw the nurse tell me I was probably healthier than I deserved to be! And they say it’s never too late to make improvements.

The Star’s campaign is focussed firmly on Ipswich – but of course the issue is the same if you live and work in Colchester, Bury St Edmunds, Stowmarket, Felixstowe, Sudbury, Woodbridge or wherever.

And just because you don’t drive to work doesn’t mean you have to be anti-car. I wouldn’t give up my car because I’m not using it to drive to work any more than I would cut off my left hand because I’m right-handed!

Sometimes I have to drive to meetings outside Ipswich. I need it to go shopping at the supermarkets. I use it for leisure trips, to visit friends and relations. Last week I drove to Ickworth Park near Bury St Edmunds and to Minsmere nature reserve.

I like driving. I’m a fan of Top Gear and took out an Amazon Prime account so I could watch The Grand Tour with the original Top Gear team – and I love Formula One.

But horses for courses! Driving two miles to work, leaving the car in the park all day and then driving home in more congested traffic does no one any good.

There have been a relatively small number of critics of the campaign – and I’ve been the butt of many of their barbs.

Firstly, we’ve said this campaign is firmly aimed at those who can take part in giving up the car – it’s not aimed at van drivers, at those whose work takes them from one place to another and for whom driving is clearly a necessity.

And we’re not suggesting people should walk or cycle long distances (although a century ago people would have thought nothing of biking 10 miles each way to and from work).

To those who have said “I bet he won’t do it when it’s wet and cold in winter,” I did start walking in during November and have been doing so ever since. It wasn’t a particularly cold or wet winter – but I have a very good coat to protect me from the elements.

And I’ve been able to afford that because my fuel bill has plummeted – from two tankfuls a month to one. That’s a saving of £50+ a month. It actually pays my subscription to a health club where I swim two or three times a week but that’s a different story!

All in all, it is important that we know that our lifestyle choices do have an impact on our health and our longevity. It is up to us whether we believe what doctors tell us, and whether we feel it is worth taking their advice.

For me, it’s worth taking that advice and I’m feeling better and less stressed for it. My car is staying in the garage most days and when I do drive it, I really enjoy the experience. My advice is, try making the change if you can.