Racing to beat the effects of climate change

Sheffield doctors discuss how exercise can help limit the effect climate change is having on our health.




While some international politicians have claimed that forest fires, drought and hurricanes are caused by Icelandic volcanoes or unraked forest leaves, in Sheffield our doctors tend to take a different view, being actual scientists.

“We’re saying that the things we’re going to do to limit the effects of climate change for future generations are the same things we’d do to improve health now, and also happen to be cost effective in the long and short term,” said Dr Aarti Bansal.

“It’s also about improving the sustainability of the NHS, because if people are healthier they use our resources less. It’s a no-brainer.”

In contrast to those choosing twitter for their early morning climate theories, doctors are seen to be one of the nation’s most trustworthy professions, noted Aarti.

“Climate change is often thought of as a weather issue,” she said. “But if we become galvanised as a profession that this is a heath issue, I think that will resonate with people.”

Changing weather patterns already lead to increased Sheffield deaths and ill health in very hot and very cold weather, she explained, while the motor vehicles that raise the city’s CO2 levels also contribute significantly to our air pollution plague.

But she added that increasing water and food scarcity will be a big heath problem in future, along with the northward spread of diseases like malaria. People can be overwhelmed by the issues, she said.

“Or people switch off because they think they’re not green enough. But I think we all have a right to talk about this. This is our life, our planet, our future, it’s our children and our health. I want everybody to feel we’re on a journey, doing what we can. And everything counts.”

A year ago doctor and medical lecturer Aarti agreed to set up the South Yorkshire Greener Practice initiative after a chat with Provost of the local branch of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Amar Rughani.

There are now ten local GP surgeries signed up to Greener Practice including Richmond Road surgery, where Dr Honey Smith regularly cycles to work and to home visits.

two doctors cycling up a street
Dr Aarti Bansal and Dr Honey Smith cycling from the Hallamshire to Weston Park.

“It’s important to promote active travel,” she said. “It prompts conversations about getting out and about into local parkland, for example. I hope all GPs will join in the scheme in future.”

Falkland House Surgery at Greystones recently won the Practice of the Year award from Sheffield’s Move More activity programme.

“Taking part was fun and easy, and boosted morale,” said GP Tom Cossham, who regularly runs three miles to work. “Exercise is a great way to keep well mentally as well as physically.”

Doctors in Sheffield can now effectively ‘prescribe’ exercise by advising patients that getting out and about more often might improve their mental and physical health, and Aarti Bansal notes the growing evidence that simply being outside in the Outdoor City’s green spaces helps prevent disease by boosting the immune system.

Aarti praised local cycle training organisation Pedal Ready after being taught the basics of commuter cycling to start cycling to work, and she said Sheffield is already starting to “lead the way” nationally in promoting ‘greener’ GP practices. She’s also recently set up a scheme so student GPs can help surgeries join in.

“There’s no cost to practices to get involved,” she said, “and it benefits everyone.”

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David Bocking
David Bocking
I’m a Sheffield-born feature writer and photographer covering the northern Peak District and The Outdoor City. We live in the best walking, running, climbing and cycling city in England, and I reckon should all stop taking it for granted!