Swapping short car rides for walking or cycling: increasing daily physical activity for adolescents

Dr Venurs Loh is exploring how to get adolescents moving more each day by choosing active travel options for short trips.

The proportion of Australian adolescents (aged 12 to 17 years) that accrue enough physical activity for good health is alarmingly low.

Walking and cycling for daily trips can contribute substantially to physical activity, but research has shown more than half of Victorian adolescents rely on a private vehicle to get to school.

Through a Deakin University Dean’s Postdoctoral Research Fellowship, Dr Venurs Loh is exploring opportunities for adolescents to substitute short car trips for active travel.

“As a nation, we are becoming increasingly sedentary and adolescents are no different,” Dr Loh said.

“At this developmental stage, it’s important to set adolescents up with good habits for life. Too much sedentary time in adolescence can increase risk factors for chronic diseases later in life, so we need to find feasible opportunities to get our young people moving more each day,” Dr Loh said.

“It’s also important from an environmental perspective. As well as getting more physical activity into each day, less reliance on cars will contribute to environmental sustainability through reduced vehicle emissions.”

For her first study as part of her Fellowship, Dr Loh is analysing GPS and accelerometer data to characterise adolescents’ travel patterns and quantify short, motorised trips (made by car or public transport) that could be feasibly replaced with walking or cycling. She will also calculate the additional physical activity that could be gained through this shift.

The second study will identify environmental (built and social) and individual barriers and facilitators of motorised trips made within walkable or cyclable distances.

Informed by the first two studies, the third study will involve one-on-one interviews with adolescents and parents of adolescents to explore the most appealing approaches to increase the uptake of active travel within feasible distances.

“By the end of the fellowship, I am hoping to have collected practical and actionable ways to encourage adolescents to choose walking or cycling over motorised travel where possible,” she said.

“The findings will be useful for advocacy, identifying behaviour change strategies and informing improvements to local infrastructure.

As part of the fellowship, Dr Loh will also cover new research ground by examining trips beyond school.

“I’m interested to see if it’s more appealing for adolescents to shift their behaviour around non-school journeys, such as trips for social, shopping or recreational activities,” she said.