Public transport, walking and cycling

March 16, 2016

Adults who commute to work via cycling or walking have lower body fat percentage and body mass index (BMI) measures in mid-life compared to adults who commute via car, according to a new study in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal.

Even people who commute via public transport also showed reductions in BMI and percentage body fat compared with those who commuted only by car. This suggests that even the incidental physical activity involved in public transport journeys may be important.

The study looked at data from over 150000 individuals from the UK Biobank data set, a large, observational study of 500000 individuals aged between 40 and 69 in the UK. The study is the largest to date to analyse the health benefits of active transport.

The strongest associations were seen for who commuted via bicycle, compared to those who commute via car. For the average man in the sample (age 53 years; height 176.7cm; weight 85.9kg), to work rather than driving was associated with a weight difference of 5kg or 11lbs (BMI difference 1.71 kg/m2). For the average woman in the sample (age 52 years; height 163.6cm; weight 70.6kg), the weight difference was 4.4kg or 9.7lbs (BMI difference 1.65 kg/m2).

After cycling, walking to work was associated with the greatest reduction in BMI and percentage body fat, compared to car-users (BMI difference 0.98 kg/m2 for men; 0.80 kg/m2 for women). For both cycling and walking, greater travelling distances were associated with greater reductions in BMI and percentage .

Commuters who only used public transport also had lower BMI compared to car-users (BMI difference of 0.70kg/m2 for men), as did commuters who combined public transport with other active methods (BMI difference 1.00 kg/m2 for men; 0.67 kg/m2 for women). The effect of public transport on BMI was slightly greater than for commuters who combined car use with other active methods (BMI difference 0.56 kg/m2 for men).

The link between and BMI was independent of other factors such as income, area deprivation, urban or rural residence, education, alcohol intake, smoking, general physical activity and overall health and disability.

In England and Wales, 23.7 million individuals regularly commute to work, 67% of commuters by car. In the study sample, 64% of men and 61% of women commuted by car, and only 4% of men and 2% of women reported cycling only or a mix of cycling and walking. Previous studies that have looked at the association between active commuting have tended to fold cycling and walking together with other modes of active commuting, which perhaps understates the positive effects of cycling. With the majority of people in mid-life commuting via car, the authors say there are significant public health benefits in obesity reduction that could be realized by encouraging and incentivizing a more active lifestyle.

"We found that, compared with commuting by car, public transport, walking and cycling or a mix of all three are associated with reductions in body mass and , even when accounting for demographic and socioeconomic factors. Many people live too far from their workplace for walking or cycling to be feasible, but even the incidental physical activity involved in public transport can have an important effect" said study author Dr Ellen Flint, Lecturer in Population Health from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UK.

Dr Flint adds: "Physical inactivity is one of the leading causes of ill-health and premature mortality. In England, two thirds of adults do not meet recommended levels of physical activity. Encouraging and active commuting, especially for those in mid-life when obesity becomes an increasing problem, could be an important part of the global policy response to population-level obesity prevention."

Writing in a linked Comment, Dr. Lars Bo Andersen, Sogndal and Fjordane University College, Sogndal, Norway, says: "The finding of a positive effect from active commuting is important, because commuting to work is an everyday activity that lots of working people need to do. Many people are not attracted to recreational sports or other leisure time physical activities, which are proven to benefit health, and active transport might therefore be an important and easy choice to increase physical activity and the proportion of people achieving recommended levels of . Physical activity during commuting has health benefits even if its intensity is moderate and the commuting does not cause high heart rate and sweating."

Explore further: Leave the car at home for a healthier daily commute, say experts

Related Stories

Leave the car at home for a healthier daily commute, say experts

August 19, 2014
Commuting to work by active (walking or cycling) and public modes of transport is linked to lower body weight and body fat composition compared with those using private transport, suggests a UK study published in BMJ today.

Switching to public transport or cycling/walking to get to work might help shed the pounds

May 7, 2015
Switching from driving to work to using public transport, walking, or cycling might help commuters shed weight within a couple of years, suggests research published online in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

Commuting to work by car linked to weight gain

January 23, 2013
Using active transport to commute to work can reduce the weight gain common to most adults. According to an Australian study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, urban residents who drive to work gain more weight ...

Commuting - bad for your health?

October 31, 2011
A mobile workforce can help improve a country's economy but the effects of commuting on the health of commuters and on the costs to industry in terms of sick days is largely unknown. From a commuter's point of view, the advantages ...

Walking or cycling to work improves wellbeing, researchers find

September 14, 2014
Walking or cycling to work is better for people's mental health than driving to work, according to new research by health economists at the University of East Anglia and the Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR).

Taking public transportation instead of driving linked with better health

November 8, 2015
Riding the bus or train to work is associated with a lower risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and being overweight, according to research presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2015.

Recommended for you

When traveling on public transport, you may want to cover your ears

November 22, 2017
The noise levels commuters are exposed to while using public transport or while biking, could induce hearing loss if experienced repeatedly and over long periods of time, according to a study published in the open access ...

Different types of alcohol elicit different emotional responses

November 22, 2017
Different types of alcohol elicit different emotional responses, but spirits are most frequently associated with feelings of aggression, suggests research published in the online journal BMJ Open.

Air pollution linked to poorer quality sperm

November 22, 2017
Air pollution, particularly levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), is associated with poorer quality sperm, suggests research published online in Occupational & Environmental Medicine.

Sunrise and sunset guide daily activities of city-dwellers

November 21, 2017
Despite artificial lightning and social conventions, the dynamics of daylight still influence the daily activities of people living in modern, urban environments, according to new research published in PLOS Computational ...

Older men need more protein to maintain muscles

November 21, 2017
The amount of protein recommended by international guidelines is not sufficient to maintain muscle size and strength in older men, according to a new study.

Exercising and eating well are greater contributors to health than standing at work

November 21, 2017
By now you've probably heard the edict from the health community: Sitting is the new smoking. Perhaps you've converted to a standing desk, or maybe you have a reminder on your phone to get up once an hour and walk around ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.