Talking the walk: health planners urged to attend conference
Walk21 Director Jim Walker
Walk21 Director Jim Walker

Latest news: 8 September 2014.

Sydney will soon host an international conference where health planners can play a key role in sharing strategies to make our cities more walkable – reducing one of the key risk factors for chronic disease, physical inactivity.

The Walk21 Conference, which will be held in Sydney on 21-23 October, will gather experts in the fields of health, walking promotion, research, policy, planning and delivery to bring about practical change to encourage people to walk more often.

Physical inactivity is a key risk factor for chronic disease, yet just 30 minutes of brisk walking on most days of the week can reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Walk21 Director Mr Jim Walker, who visited Sydney recently, says walkable cities not only promote health through physical activity, they promote quality of life and wellbeing.

Liveable cities

“We recognise that walking is one of the best indicators of whether a city is working or not – of whether it’s sustainable, liveable and happy,” he says.

Mr Walker encourages health policy makers and planners to attend the Walk21 conference, which will be hosted by the NSW Government in partnership with the City of Sydney.

The conference includes a stream that focuses on walking, health and planning issues, including how walking and urban design can influence dementia rates, and the relationship between the built environment and walking.

He says the conference will also explore the pioneering work of the Heart Foundation’s walking program, which he describes as an “unsung success story in walking promotion”.

“The Heart Foundation’s program has been sustained for more than 10 years, unlike similar programs in other countries that haven’t lasted,” Mr Walker says. “We need to understand why it has been so successful and how other groups could achieve this success through campaigning with the community.”

Importantly, by attending the conference, he says health planners and policy makers will have the opportunity to rub shoulders with professionals from other sectors.

In this way, Walk21 is taking a multi-sector approach to walkability, much like The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre, which is researching a comprehensive approach to preventing chronic health problems that considers the health system as well as others sectors such as education, food production and urban planning.

“In some cities, people who are in charge of walking are also in charge of street lighting and drainage,” Mr Walker says. “We need good drainage and lighting so we can walk safely.

Building connections

“The key is making everybody feel responsible for making it possible for people to walk safely and easily,” he says. “I hope the conference will build a sense of accountability and connection. I don’t mind if the conference hall is full of engineers, planners, managers of street lighting, or the police – but ideally I’d have them all there because they’re all part of that system and so too is health care.”

By the end of the three-day conference, Mr Walker hopes that every delegate feels “part of a global community movement that is caring and doing something to make our cities walkable and liveable”.

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