By Ryan McGreal
Published April 01, 2013
A recent article in Grist reports on scientific studies finding that cycling for transportation is more effective for weight loss and good health than working out in a gym.
According to Australian epidemiologist Takemi Sugiyama, lead author of a recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, "Commuting is a relevant health behavior even for those who are sufficiently active in their leisure time."
Analyzing the research, The Health Behavior News Service notes, "It may be more realistic to accumulate physical activity through active transport than adding exercise to weekly leisure-time routines."
The four-year study of 822 adults found that found that people commuting to work by car gained more weight on average, even if they engaged in regular exercise, than people who did not commute by car. The authors of the study recommend creating more opportunities for everyone to walk or bike to work.
This is consistent with previous research that found the same thing. It just makes sense: commuting via active transportation doesn't just add exercise to anotherwise sedentary day, but actually displaces a sedentary activity (sitting in a car) with a healthy activity that achieves the same goal.
Instead of having to fit exercise somewhere into your day, exercise happens as a by-product of the daily commute you're making anyway.
This has certainly been true for me. I'm not what anyone would call trim or svelte, but my daily commute, a 6 km round-trip on foot, is the main thing keeping me this side of morbid obesity.
I have never been any good at making time for fitness - there always seems to be something more pressing than bench presses to do with my spare time - but I don't have to make special time for walking.
One last note from the article:
As a study by Portland State University professor Jennifer Dill in the Journal of Public Health Policy shows, 60 percent of Portland cyclists ride for at least 150 minutes per week (the recommended exercise minimum for adults) and that "nearly all the bicycling was for utilitarian purposes, not exercise."
She adds "a disproportionate share of the bicycling occurred on streets with bicycle lanes, separate paths, or bicycle boulevards" - confirming the importance of bike infrastructure improvements to public health.
If we want more people to choose active transportation over driving - and we absolutely do - we need to invest in the kind of infrastructure that will nudge more people to make that choice.
We get the kind of city we build for. If we keep building a city for drivers, we will continue to miss out on the myriad public health benefits of active transportation - not only improved personal fitness, but also improved air quality, fewer hospital visits, lower health care costs, and fewer premature deaths.
(h/t to Jason Leach for pointing out the Grist article)
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