Want to improve your health, help the environment, save money and have fun all at the same time? A new study says walking or biking to work may do all those things.
The study looked at the health and habits for 2,364 adults who work outside their homes and found those who walked or bike to their jobs weighed less, had lower blood pressure and had healthier levels of triglyceride and insulin.
The researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill noted in the study that there's evidence that 60 minutes of brisk walking a day can help avoid weight gain, but they noted there was little prior research on the cardiovascular benefit of such exercise. They said their study shows that "active commuting" by bike or walking shows the connection between the increasingly popular transportation methods and good heart health.
"Public support for policies that encourage active commuting has been shown, particularly for individuals with experience using active commuting and with positive attitudes toward walking and biking," they wrote.
"Furthermore, increasing active commuting will have the dual benefits of increasing population health and in reduction of greenhouse gas emissions," they said. "Environmental supports for commuting, such as physical environment and sociocultural factors, have been shown to promote active forms of commuting."
The study didn't look at the motivations to walk or ride to work, and that may be the way to get more people to try it. Most active commuters do it because it's a lot more fun than being stuck in traffic or sitting on a bus. Why go to a gym if you can get your exercise riding to work?
"It keeps you fit like nothing else, and it's healthier for the mind, too," Rudi Verhoeven, a 57-year-old painter, told RedwoodAge in a recent story. Verhoven has been commuting from Marin to San Mateo counties in Northern California for five years, usually combining a 15-mile ride with a cross-bay ferry ride.
To be sure, the study raises the chicken-and-the-egg question: Were the active commuters already healthier before they started commuting? Or did they grow healthier as a result of bike commuting? The answer to that isn't as clear, according to the report in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
The study also didn't examine health risks associated with cycling, which causes more injuries each year in the US than any other sport. And weather is an obstacle in many parts of the country during the winter, although walking and cycling is still practical most of the year.
1 in 7 Are Active
In the study, Dr. Penny Gordon-Larson of UNC's School of Public Health reviewed data collected in 2005 and 2006 in a study called Coronary Artery Risk Delopment in Young Adults, also known as the CARDIA study. Participants provided the length of their commutes in minutes and miles and included details on whether the trips were made by car, transit, bikes or foot.
Each person's height, weight, blood pressure and fitness levels were assessed on a treadmill test, along with other health variables. They also wore an accelerometer for at least four days to gauge the intensity of their physical activity. A total of 16.7 percent of the participants were active commuters.
"Active commuting was positively associated with fitness in men and women and inversely associated with body mass index, obesity, triglyceride levels, blood pressure and insulin level in men," the authors reported.
What's next? The researchers said they hope to unravel the association between active commuting and other health-promoting behaviors.
Editor's Note: Tom Murphy commutes 35 miles a day by bicycle, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge.