Two new projects to help promote active transport and understand healthy ageing

Two new projects led by Dr Lucy Gunn aim to improve our health by understanding the health impacts of our neighbourhoods.

In 2021, the Transport Health Assessment Tool for Melbourne (THAT-Melbourne) was launched as a free web-based simulation model and tool that presents data on the health benefits gained when driving is replaced by walking or cycling in Melbourne.

Since winning the Planning Institute of Australia’s Planning Research Award for THAT-Melbourne last year, the research team, led by Gunn, received funding from The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre to extend the tool to Brisbane. THAT-Brisbane will improve planning practitioners’ literacy on the health impacts of active transport to support evidence-based planning for healthier cities.

“We can encourage healthier transport options but we need to build safe infrastructure and provide better services that can compete with the speed, efficiency and convenience of cars. This could come in the form of dedicated bus lanes or through incentives such as tax breaks or subsidies for using bikes or public transport to help encourage people to try it and it take it up on a more consistent basis,” Gunn said.

With the Transport Health Assessment Tool providing a real-world evidence base for the health benefits of active transport, these shifts in policy may be easier to justify. Moreover, as Gunn says, “the rising cost of living provides an opportunity to rebalance costs and behaviours towards cheaper forms of transport that also have health and other co-benefits.”  

In December, Gunn, along with CUR colleagues Melanie Davern and Gavin Turrell, and Takemi Sugiyama (Swinburne University), also received ARC Discovery funding for a project that seeks to understand the characteristics of neighbourhoods that promote healthy ageing.

Health authorities in Australia and abroad emphasise the importance of designing liveable, equitable, and age-friendly neighbourhoods. The ARC project, ‘Designing liveable neighbourhoods to support healthy ageing’ aims to fill the gap in liveability research, which tends to focus on the general adult population and could miss liveability characteristics relevant to older populations.

“Residents of liveable neighbourhoods are more likely to be physically active, to walk and cycle for transport and leisure, to be socially connected, have good mental health, and they are less likely to be overweight or have chronic conditions” Gunn said. “Older people are known to spend more time in their residential neighbourhood than other age groups and their daily behaviours might be different from those of working-age adults – this is why we need to build knowledge on liveability specific to older adults to inform policies and investment for healthy ageing.

Healthy ageing directly benefits our ageing population – 22% of the world’s population is predicted to be over 60 by 2050 – but it also benefits the rest of society. A healthier older population will ease the economic and practical stresses on over-burdened health and aged care systems.

“Older people have much to offer, and there are increasing numbers of them, yet, less is known about the environments the live in or their individual characteristics that help support healthy ageing.  We don’t have all the answers on why some people age well and others don’t.  This project will focus on addressing this gap to assist in creating environments that help older people age well with improved health, wellbeing and quality of life.”

Story: Jenny Lucy