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Building healthier, more active communities

"The role sport and in particular cycling, can play should not be underestimated."

Many of us struggle to balance our busy schedules. It often means our priorities shift and certain elements of our lives take a back seat.

Keeping fit and active, therefore, tends to be one of the first sacrifices.

It is why Deakin Business School (DBS) lecturer Dr Katie Rowe is so passionate about her research into sport and active recreation, with a focus on female engagement.

‘We are facing a major shift in the way people live their lives,’ Dr Rowe says.

‘We are busier than ever, less active and the rates of sport club memberships have stagnated, with many people choosing individual forms of exercise or none at all.

‘As we attempt to tackle the inactivity and obesity crisis facing this nation, the role sport and, in particular, cycling can play should not be underestimated.’

In March, Dr Rowe organised a Deakin focused cycling event as part of Cycling Victoria’s ‘The Women’s Ride’. With support from Whitehorse City Council, the event encouraged female staff at Deakin to partake in a 10 km ride along a local path to support and celebrate women’s cycling.

‘Through my research into women’s sport and active recreation participation, I have developed an understanding of the physical, social and mental health benefits women can derive from participation – particularly cycling,’ Dr Rowe says.

‘I decided that The Women’s Ride was a great opportunity for me to attempt to “practice what I preach” in a sense and take what I have learnt about women, cycling and engagement to support women at Deakin.’

The ride helped several participants to gain, or regain confidence on their bikes. It was also a great opportunity to connect with Whitehorse City Council, to explore ways to engage staff, students and members of the community in healthy, active forms of recreation.

In her 2013 PhD thesis, Dr Rowe focused on understanding the barriers, but also the supportive factors, for women who had either commenced or recommenced cycling as an adult.

Dr Rowe says she was ‘intrigued’ by statistics that showed Australian women were far less likely to cycle than Australian men. It is a similar trend in the USA and England, but contrary to countries such as Denmark, where cycling infrastructure, laws, policy and culture are more supportive for women to ride bikes.

In her study, common cycling barriers reported by female participants included a lack of confidence and feeling inadequate, as well as a need for encouragement, guidance and social networks as they commenced cycling.

This became a clear driving force behind connecting Dr Rowe’s research with her workplace, to break down the barriers many women see in cycling.

The success of this year’s cycling event has encouraged Dr Rowe to build on this momentum and create a larger-scale event in 2017, incorporating a broader range of rides and activities.

‘This is a great way for Deakin to work with community stakeholders, including Whitehorse Council and Cycling Victoria, towards building healthier, more active communities,’ Dr Rowe said.

‘Moreover, given cycling can be used as a form of transport, there is great scope for events such as this to help support women who are interested in building skills and confidence in an effort to start cycling to work.’

Dr Rowe says there are numerous benefits both women and men can gain from being active.

‘Sport and recreational activities provide a great social outlet for everyone. I hope my work can help bring about change and encourage more people to participate in sport and active recreation, which can, in turn, help bring people together.’

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