The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Health Benefits of Active Commuting

Posted in
Move more

Monday, Jul 20, 2009

Increasing opportunities for active living is one of the tenets of the Stand Up & Eat web site.  About a year ago, when gas prices were at an all time high, we blogged about how energy efficient bicycle riding is compared to using a car – even a hybrid. In another blog, we linked to a video that showed that commuting by bike can be faster than public transportation and private car. And we have hinted that active commuting is a healthier way than driving to get to where you want to go.

Now there is proof.  Well, sort of.

Last week, a paper published in the Archives of Internal Medicine showed that the adults who reported walking or riding a bike as part of their commute to work were more physically fit (duh!) than those who used other means of transportation1.   Plus, the active commuting men had lower BMI, obesity, blood pressure, triglyceride and insulin levels than men who did not use active means to get to and from work.  The active commuting women did not show similar differences in these health measures probably because they did not commute on foot or by bike as far as the active men did.

This is great, affirming news.  The “sort of” part comes when considering the study design.  Researchers looked at data collected as part of the prospective CARDIA study.  After tracking the study participants for many years, they teased out those who were active commuters and those who were not.  Then they compared the two groups on the various health parameters described above.  They tried to statistically account for as many confounding variables (e.g., age, race, income, smoking, and other physical activity) as possible.  Still, there remains the possibility that the active commuters were healthier to start with and thus, were more likely to choose health-promoting behaviors  such as burning calories via active commuting.  Additional studies are needed to see if couch potatoes who become active commuters do actually reduce their health risks.

Nonetheless, this study is important because it shows:

  • A positive association between a lifestyle physical activity – commuting by bike or walking – and health.
  • A significant opportunity for boosting the number people who actively commute.  Only about 17% were classified as active commuters in this study.  That means over 80% of Americans could potentially improve their cardiovascular risk factors simply by moving their bodies more – and their cars less – on their daily commute.
If this new study is just what you needed to dust off your bike and map out a route to work, check out our blog posting on being bikeable. You’ll find lots of links about safe biking, commuting tips, and the top 10 bikeable cities.

In the comments section below, share how you plan to burn calories on your commute to work.


1 Gordon-Larsen P, Boone-Heinonen J, Sidney S, Sternfeld B, Jacobs DR, and Lewis CE.  Active Commuting and Cardiovascular Disease Risk:  The Cardia Study.  Archives of Internal Medicine.  2009;169(13):1216-1223.