Active commuting may be an important tool for combatting obesity, according to a recent study that found adults who bike, walk or take public transportation have lower body fat than those who drive to work each day.
Published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, this is the largest study of its kind to analyze the health benefits of active transportation.
Every day, millions of adults regularly commute to their workplace, either by car, public transportation or otherwise. Research has found that individuals who commute to work actively, like by walking or biking, achieve higher levels of physical activity than those who drive. It’s well established that physical activity helps promote a healthy weight and improves overall health.
So how much does active commuting help ward off extra weight? To learn more, researchers analyzed data from the UK Biobank, which tracks the health of UK adults to improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of serious illnesses like heart disease and cancer.
Between 2006 and 2010, 150,000 UK adults ages 40–69 completed questionnaires about their health and lifestyle choices, including their commuting method and distance. Commuting options included car or motor vehicle, public transportation, walking or biking. Participants also underwent medical exams to assess height, weight and body fat.
Overall, responses show that roughly two-thirds of adults commute to work by car. Only 23% of men and 24% of women used active forms of transportation only for their daily commute. And only 4% of men and 2% of women reported biking or a mix of biking and walking.
The good news is that active commuting was associated with lower body mass index and body fat compared to driving. Biking appeared to have the greatest benefits when it came to weight. Bikers weighed 10–11 pounds less, on average, than those commuting to work by car. Overall, the longer distance a person actively commuted, the lower their weight. The problem is that the majority of adults drive to work, rather than actively commute.
Still, authors are encouraged by findings, as physical inactivity is a major global health concern. “Physical inactivity is one of the leading causes of ill-health and premature mortality,” said study author Dr. Ellen Flint, Lecturer in Population Health from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UK. “In England, two-thirds of adults do not meet recommended levels of physical activity,” adds Dr. Flint.
Active commuting may be an easy way for adults to incorporate more exercise into their daily routine, especially for those who don’t enjoy recreational sports or other activities. Dr. Flint adds, “Encouraging public transport 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.”