Portugal’s best-kept secret’

Despite the fact that Portugal is European champion in bicycle production, as to physical exercise the country is at the very bottom of the league table.

The Portuguese exercise the least in Europe. Almost three quarter (73%) say they never exercise or do any kind of sport – against 45% of the Europeans – according to the Eurobarometer of Sport and Physical Activity.

At the other extreme are the Finns with over 70% admitting to exercising or playing sports at least once a week, followed by Luxembourg (63%) and the Netherlands (60%).

This low physical activity contrasts heavily with the country’s bicycle production. In 2021, 13.5 million bicycles were produced in the European Union, with Portugal leading the ranking (2.9 million). Other main bicycle producers in the EU are Romania (2.5 million) and Italy (1.9 million).

The international news channel BBC highlighted Portugal as being ‘Europe’s best-kept secret for cycling’. The bicycle industry – mainly producing for export – currently includes around 60 factories with almost 8,000 people employed. One of the advantages of domestic production is the possibility of offering EU customers much shorter supply chains than competing Asian manufacturers.

The pandemic has been the main driving force behind the industry’s continued growth. ‘Covid has brought new opportunities to the sector as it ended up encouraging healthier lifestyles across Europe, explains Gil Nadais, secretary-general of Portugal Bike Value, who expects the industry to grow between 20% and 30% this year.

Even with only a tiny fraction of the urban population using a bicycle for commuting, Fernando Chicarini, the owner of Lisbon’s oldest bicycle shop – Armazéns Airaf, founded in 1951 – is optimistic as his sales have soared 40% since the start of the pandemic.

However, one of the main problems in the country is that road safety in urban centers continues to be bad and the percentage of road fatalities in Portugal particularly high when compared to other European countries. A situation that has not significantly improved in recent years.

Those who pedal are mostly men of working age, able to face the busy car traffic. The number of women though is important because they are the ones who give the most attention to safety issues. In Lisbon, women represent a quarter of those who cycle on a daily basis, which corresponds to the EU average.

So, the challenge for the coming years will be to effectively get more Portuguese on a bike. Cycling – in addition to promoting general well-being – helps to reduce car use and air pollution. Moreover, regular cycling (45 km a week) almost halves the incidence of heart disease and cancer.

Enjoy the week            Boa semana                          (pic Público/Sapo)

Environmental noise is linked to depression, anxiety, and heart disease

According to WHO, ambient noise is, after air pollution, the second biggest environmental cause of health problems. Prolonged exposure to noise provokes sleep disturbance, stress, headache, and concentration problems – eventually leading to chronic conditions such as depression, anxiety, and heart disease.

Last month the Government announced a temporary annulment of restrictions on night air traffic between 00.00 and 06.00, requested by the country’s air traffic control company between the 18th of October and 29th of November, in order to implement its new Top Sky control system. This means an extra 425 night flights in six weeks.

Environmental associations ZERO, Quercus and Geota strongly oppose this exceptional move and consider it illegitimate to sacrifice the population of Lisbon and Loures – approximately 150.000 citizens – with intolerable noise levels – of more than 65 decibels – at night.

The environmentalists state that not only is the current regime of night-time restrictions disrespected -with already 50% more night-time flights than legally established – but also that noise thresholds in the vicinity of the airport are constantly exceeded, making Lisbon’s Humberto Delgado one of the worst European airports to noise from air traffic.
Moreover, people living close to the airport are exposed to high concentrations of ultrafine nanoparticles giving rise to pulmonary problems in adults and cognitive problems in children.

For many years already, residents of downtown neighborhoods in Lisbon (i.e. Bairro Alto, Cais de Sodré, and Santos) are complaining about excessive noise in bars and on the streets.

A stricter policy from the municipality is warranted based on experiences from other European cities – such as Barcelona – where fines of up to 600 euros are given for anyone caught drinking alcohol on the streets. In the meantime, the City Council has created a noise hotline (Linha Ruido 808 910 555) to denounce rowdy gatherings, with calls going straight to the police.

Light pollution is a worldwide problem associated with a harmful impact on health (sleep disturbance) and ecosystems (migration of birds, disappearance of insects and bats). With regard to this, the tiny island of Corvo in the Azores will turn off the public lighting system at night to protect its endangered seabirds.

Portugal scores the worst in Europe regarding light pollution, both in terms of luminous flux per capita and per gross domestic product (GDP). In fact, the country uses on average four times more light than Germany or Switzerland!

But not only are we using more light, the transition to blue-white light emitted with the introduction of energy-efficient LED lamps, will further increase its negative impact on the environment.

Enjoy the week            Boa semana                 (pic Público/Sapo)