Is active commuting good for our health?

Ellen Flint, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Ellen Flint

Co Authors
Steven Cummins, Amanda Sacker

Active travel; Commuting; Biomeasures; Obesity

Background: Physical activity reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease and is an important factor in healthy weight maintenance. However, overall levels of physical activity have declined in the developed world, and tackling obesity is a public health priority. Active commuting is thought to be a particularly effective way of getting exercise, as it is easily adopted and likely to be maintained as part of one’s daily routine.

Methods: Using data from Understanding Society Wave 2, this study investigates the extent to which active commuting predicts four objectively measured health outcomes: body mass index (BMI); percentage body fat; lung function; and blood pressure. Commuting was defined using three categories designed to capture increasing levels of physical activity: private transport; public transport; active transport. The analytic sample was restricted to those who worked outside of the home and had complete data for commuting and biological measurements (n=3352 men; n=4103 women). Gender-stratified multivariate linear regression analyses were utilised, in order to adjust for a range of covariates.

Results: In age-adjusted analyses, compared with using private transport; public transport and active transport were associated with lower BMI for men (public transport: b -1.1, p<0.001; active transport: b -0.9, p=0.002) and women (public transport: b -0.6, p=0.05; active transport: b -0.6, p=0.01). Adjustment for other covariates did not greatly attenuate this association for men (public transport: b -1.0, p<0.001; active transport: b -0.7, p=0.016) or for female active travellers (public transport: b -0.6, p=0.09; active transport: b -0.9, p=0.001). Similar results were found for percentage body fat. Findings for blood pressure and lung function varied by gender and told a more complex story.

Conclusions: The results corroborate findings from other studies suggesting that incorporating a greater level of physical activity into the journey to work may help individuals maintain a healthy weight and body composition.