More Evidence That Active Transportation Supports Improved Health

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)

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By jason (registered) | Posted April 01, 2013 at 18:28:09

this article dovetails perfectly with the report on CBC today about how woefully behind the times the HSR is. Again, the proof is simple and easy to understand - you get the city you pay for. We spend almost exclusively on roads, and therefore have a less healthy city than average, more obese city than average, lower transit ridership compared to everyone else, lower cycling/walking rates than comparable cities, and of course the millions of dollars in health care costs and lost work days that an unhealthy lifestyle brings.

Hamilton's grand plans and big talk at economic summits and flashy promo videos are hallow, half-truths until we are willing to put our money where our mouth is. We've got the basics and foundation in place to be a booming, vibrant city, but far too many potential employers and residents are turned off by our 1970's planning priorities of cars and parking. And more cars....and more parking.

Comment edited by jason on 2013-04-01 18:28:47

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2013 at 20:33:40 in reply to Comment 87601

IBI Group's March 2010 Operational Review of the HSR revealed that in order for Hamilton to meet its Vision 2020 targets for per capital ridership, the city should be putting no fewer than 15 new buses on the roads every year.

In January, a Spectator story noted that "About 17 or 18 buses are usually bought each year, although no buses are on order for 2013 due to citywide budget constraints, a saving of about $9 million."

Because operational costs continue to rise and fare box cost recovery is limited by perennial fare freezes, the HSR is constrained to a large extent by by the City's transit commitment (~$31 million per year), and susceptible to budget constraints that basically wipe out its ability to invest in rolling stock.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 03, 2013 at 15:39:56 in reply to Comment 87602

Maybe it's just my perception since I mostly use the main arterial routes, but the problem with the HSR is not the quality or quantity of buses. The buses are fine - it's how they use them that stinks.

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