Are you an active commuter? Good for you!

August 2, 2010 by  

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Active commuting – the act of going to work or school on foot or by bike – makes the worker or student physically fit, according to researchers at the School of Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Health experts recommend at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity each day. Unfortunately, many people do not have 60 minutes (or so they say). What with the job and the daily commute. So here’s a compromise that might help you keep fit and live longer: be an active commuter.

According to the researchers led by Dr. Penny Gordon-Larsen:

One potentially effective means of increasing physical activity is through alternative, non-leisure forms of physical activity such as active commuting (walking or biking to work).”

To find out whether this form of “lifestyle exercise” really does work, the researchers looked at participants of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA). A total of 2,364 participants were surveyed. They were asked to give details of their commute to and from work, such as the means of transport, the distance travelled. They also had to undergo a thorough physical check-up, to gather data on height, weight and other health variables, including blood pressure, lipid profile and fitness levels as assessed by a treadmill test. During at least four days of the study period, they had to wear an accelerometer to measure their real levels of physical activity. Only 16.7% of the participants use some form of active commuting to their place of work.

“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 wrote.

There are situations wherein active commuting is not feasible, e.g. long distances, time constraints, and lousy weather. Here is how to get around these so-called “justifications.”

Distance. The trick is to do the active commuting part of the way. Get off a couple of stops before your final destination and work the rest of the way. Later on, you can increase the distance.

Time. If you are really short for time in the morning, then do it after work. This is a great way to unwind!

Weather. Someone once told me that there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. Again, an active commute part of the way is possible unless it is a real downpour or blizzard outside. I know someone who works up in Davos (yes, the same Davos where they hold the WEF each year) and she cycles to work every day until the first snow falls. Then she shifts to cross-country skiing!

What about those working in a home office? The commute from bed to desk can’t be that much. Well, as a home office worker, I still stick to my daily jogging runs. However, I have the ideal set up for regular physical activity. I live in a 4-storey row house. The washing machine is in the cellar; my office is on the top floor, in the attic. No elevators. This is my daily commute – 3 flights of stairs several times a day!

Besides, active commuting is green and saves money.

The authors concluded:

“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. Furthermore, increasing active commuting will have the dual benefits of increasing population health and in reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Environmental supports for commuting, such as physical environment and sociocultural factors, have been shown to promote active forms of commuting.”

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