When one owns a car, it is always tempting to drive, even to nearby destinations. The car is readily available and, in most instances, makes traveling from one point to another relatively effortless. However, it is sometimes possible to leave the car at home and walk or bike to a destination. Walking and biking are simple and fun ways to promote health. Walking and biking burn calories, support cardiovascular well-being, and reduce anxiety and depression. There is even the possibility that walking and biking may lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Walkers and bikers save money on their transportation costs. Purchasing and maintaining a car is expensive. Street parking in a city tends to be problematic; finding a permanent parking spot may add even more expense. Walking is essentially free. Biking does necessitate having a bike, but many new or used models may be purchased for relatively modest sums. Bikes may also be rented. In addition, walkers and bikers also have a positive impact on the environment. There is even a term for walking or biking to commute to school and/or work: active commuting.
In a study published in 2013 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, researchers from London examined the association between active commuting to work and cardiovascular health. Data were obtained from Understanding Society, a nationally representative survey of residents of the United Kingdom. The cohort consisted of 20,458 individuals 16 years of age or older. Only 12 percent of those surveyed walked to work; an even smaller number, 3 percent, cycled to work. Yet, participants who used any form of active commuting were significantly less likely to be overweight or obese than those who used private transportation, such as cars. Walkers and cyclists were less likely to have diabetes, and walkers were less likely to have hypertension than those who had private transport. The researchers noted that active commuting and traveling “should be prioritized within national and local prevention strategies for obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.” 1
In a study published in 2014 in Preventive Medicine, researchers from Finland investigated the association between active commuting and physical activity from youth until early midlife. Using five self-reporting questionnaires administered between 1980 and 2007, the researchers followed 2,072 men and women from youth (9-18 years) into adulthood (30-45 years). The researchers found that active commuting was common in childhood and adolescence but declined after the age of 12. Yet, those who continued commuting actively from youth to adulthood were more likely to maintain physical activity. The researchers concluded that “regular AC [active commuting] may promote overall PA [physical activity] and fitness, which, in turn, increases the probability of being active in later life and of enhancing health.” 3
In a study published in 2015 in Preventive Medicine, researchers from Los Angeles wanted to determine if residents of Los Angeles County would back infrastructure changes that support walking and biking. Los Angeles County is well known for having residents who spend large amounts of time driving their cars. As a result, in the fall of 2013, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health arranged for an independent California-based survey firm to conduct a 15-minute telephone survey with a random sample of 1,005 registered voters. Participants were asked a series of questions about their attitudes toward the construction of infrastructure that would facilitate walking, biking, and public transportation. Although few of the participants actually walked or biked, large numbers were supportive of infrastructure improvements. The highest number backed improvements that would support walking. “Overall, the study provides support for voter appreciation and interest in investing more in active communities.” 4 If people perceive that they are able to walk and bike with increased safety, there is a greater probability that they will participate in active commuting, which is a healthier alternative for them and the community.
In a study published in 2013 in the Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, researchers based in Portugal examined the relationship between active commuting and metabolic risk factors in 229 pre-teens between the ages of 10 to 12 years. These students, who lived in Porto, Portugal, were asked how they usually traveled to and from school. Body measurements and blood testing were administered at the schools. The researchers found a significant beneficial association between walking to and from school and waist circumference and levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. The researchers noted that “these findings could be especially significant for obese children that usually have less PA [physical activity] opportunities implying that walking to school may be a simple and effective strategy, that can be implemented almost everywhere, to help control and reduce overweight.” 5
In a study published in 2014 in the Health Promotion Journal of Australia, researchers from Australia investigated active commuting in the greater metropolitan area of Sydney. According to the researchers, in Australia, the rates of walking or biking to work tend to be low. The researchers purchased data from the 2001, 2006, and 2011 Australian Census of Population and Housing from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Then, they analyzed this data for three regional groupings—inner Sydney, outer Sydney, and the greater metropolitan region of Sydney. The researchers found that between 2001 and 2011 the proportion of people walking or biking to work in inner Sydney rose, but it fell in outer Sydney and the greater metropolitan area. However, when all three areas were combined, the increases in active commuting outweighed the decreases, “resulting in a small but significant increase in proportion of people actively traveling to work.” The researchers concluded that there is a need for a multiagency approach to increasing the numbers of people who actively commute. This should begin with “marketing, transport strategies, and parking and road network strategies.” But, it should also include input from agencies involved with roads infrastructure, public transport, and health promotion. 6
1. Anthony A. Laverty, Jennifer S. Mindell, Elizabeth A. Webb, and Christopher Millett, “Active Travel to Work and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in the United Kingdom,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 45, no. 3 (2013): 282-88.
2. Martin Adam, Yevgeniy Goryakin, and Marc Suhrcke, “Does Active Commuting Improve Psychological Wellbeing? Longitudinal Evidence from Eighteen Waves of the British Household Panel Survey,” Preventive Medicine 69 (2014): 296-303.
3. Xiaolin Yang, Risto Telama, Mirja Hirvensalo et al., “Active Commuting from Youth to Adulthood As a Predictor of Physical Activity in Early Midlife: The Young Finns Study,” Preventive Medicine 59 (2014): 5-11.
4. Lauren N. Gase, Noel C. Barrigan, Paul A. Simon et al., “Public Awareness of and Support for Infrastructure Changes Designed to Increase Walking and Biking in Los Angeles County,” Preventive Medicine 72 (2015): 70-75.
5. A. N. Pizarro, J. C. Ribeiro, E. A. Marques et al., “Is Walking to School Associated with Improved Metabolic Health?” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 10 (2013): 12+.
6. Alexis Zander, Chris Rissel, Kris Rogers, and Adrian Bauman, “Active Travel to Work in NSW: Trends Over Time and the Effect of Social Advantage,” Health Promotion Journal of Australia 25 (2014): 167-73.
7. Suzanne Audrey and Sunita Procter, “Employers’ Views of Promoting Walking to Work: A Qualitative Study,” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 12 (2015): 12+.
Audrey, Suzanne, and Sunita Procter. “Employers’ Views of Promoting Walking to Work: A Qualitative Study.” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 12 (2015): 12+.
Gase, Lauren N., Noel C. Barragan, Paul A. Simon et al. “Public Awareness of and Support for Infrastructure Changes Designed to Increase Walking and Biking in Los Angeles County.” Preventive Medicine 72 (2015): 70-75.
Hume, Clare, Anna Timperio, Jo Salmon et al. “Walking and Cycling to School.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 36, no. 3 (2009): 195-200.
Laverty, Anthony A., Jennifer S. Mindell, Elizabeth A. Webb, and Christopher Millett. “Active Travel to Work and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in the United Kingdom.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 45, no. 3 (2013): 282-88.
Martin, Adam, Yevgenity Goryakin, and Marc Suhrcke. “Does Active Commuting Improve Psychological Wellbeing? Longitudinal Evidence from Eighteen Waves of the British Household Panel Survey.” Preventive Medicine 69 (2014): 296-303.
Oluyomi, Abiodun O., Chanam Lee, Eileen Nehme et al. “Parental Safety Concerns and Active School Commute: Correlates Across Multiple Domains in the Home-to-School Journey.” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 11 (2014): 32+.
Pizarro, A. N., J. C. Ribeiro, E. A. Marques et al. “Is Walking to School Associated with Improved Metabolic Health?” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 10 (2013): 12+.
Smith, Liz, Sarah H. Norgate, Tom Cherrett et al. “Walking School Buses as a Form of Active Transportation for Children—A Review of the Evidence.” Journal of School Health 85, no. 3 (2015): 197-210.
St-Louis, Evelyne, Kevin Manaugh, Dea van Lierop, and Ahmed El-Geneidy. “The Happy Commuter: A Comparison of Commuter Satisfaction Across Modes.” Transportation Research Part F 26 (2014): 160-70.
Sugiyama, Takemi, Ding Ding, and Neville Owen. “Commuting By Car.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 44, no. 2 (2013): 169-73.
Yang, Xiaolin, Risto Telama, Mirja Hirvensalo et al. “Active Commuting from Youth to Adulthood As a Predictor of Physical Activity in Early Midlife: The Young Finns Study,” Preventive Medicine 59 (2014): 5-11.
Zander, Alexis, Chris Rissel, Kris Rogers, and Adrian Bauman. “Active Travel to Work in NSW: Trends Over Time and the Effect of Social Advantage.” Health Promotion Journal of Australia 25 (2014): 167-73.
The Nemours Foundation. www.kidshealth.org .