Report links active commuting to healthier body weight

12.00 | 17 March 2016 | | 7 comments

A study of more than 150,000 UK adults aged 40 years and over has revealed that those who walk, cycle or use public transport for their journey to work tend to be slimmer than commuters who travel by car.

Conducted by researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the study shows ‘robust, independent associations’ between active commuting and healthier body weight.

72,999 men and 83,667 women between the age of 40-69 years took part in the study which measured and weighed participants who completed a survey about their typical daily commute.

The results concluded that “active commuting was significantly and independently associated with reduced BMI (body mass index) and percentage body fat for both sexes”.

The study identifies cycling as the best means of keeping in shape, followed by walking. The results also show that even using public transport, with the small amounts of exercise involved, has health benefits over using a car.

Even after factoring in lifestyle choices such as diet and smoking, the study drew the same conclusions in relation to body weight.

A BBC News report on the study says an "average height man would weigh around 5kg (11lbs) less if he were to cycle rather than drive to work each day”. The weight loss for an average height woman is 4.4kg (9.7lbs).

Dr Ellen Flint, the report’s lead author, said: “This study is the first to use UK Biobank data to address the topic of active commuting and obesity and shows robust, independent associations between active commuting and healthier body weight and composition.

“These findings support the case for interventions to promote active travel as a population-level policy response for prevention of obesity in mid-life.”

Talking to BBC News, Ms Flint said it is “important that policy makers and town planners make it easy for people to walk and cycle to work”, describing this as “a win, win for public health and the environment".



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    I was not directing the PS in my previous post towards you.

    Also my post made it clear that not all courses of action are appropriate for all and in addition I do not favour compulsion as a method of changing people’s behaviours in the majority of cases. Informed choices are what it should be about. There are of course other ways to get fit than cycling.

    However I do not think we should disregard the people who are not in a position to make free informed choices due to their demographic profile. Life expectancy is not uniform across the social spectrum – there are large differences in a small geographic area and I think I heard on the news the other day that in some places in the UK it is actually lower than it has been? This is partly due to sedentary lifestyles (not necessarily caused by reliance on 5 star EuroNCAP car travel!).

    It would be easy to slide into a political debate as to why this may be so but I do not think I will go down that path here!

    I assume that Rod posted the kinetic energy comment to see if anyone would disagree with an accepted equation form the world of physics?

    Nick, Lancashire
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    I haven’t marked Rod’s kinetic energy comment in any direction as it is irrelevant to the article. Bear in mind that life expectancy from birth is at record levels despite the fact that 99% of people don’t cycle and the pension age has been raised. Increasingly peoples’ bodies are outlasting their minds. Personally I wouldn’t swap a 5 star EuroNCAP safety rating for the zero protection of 2 flimsy wheels.

    Paul Biggs, Staffordshire
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Not all courses of action are appropriate for all people – for a whole manner of reasons. However consider the following weekly activities for a commuter who would probably not be considered to be out of the ordinary.

    Works Monday to Friday and travels by car from drive to a (free) parking space immediately adjacent to the office. Time in car each week is 7 and a half hours. Petrol cost approx. £95 per month. To get/keep fitter the same person spends £22 per month in gym subscription and spend 3 hours in the gym each week. Total outgoings approx. £117 per month for activities taking up 10 and a half hours per week.

    The person decides to commute by bike. This takes one hour each way so he spends 10 hours per week commuting/exercising and gives up his gym membership. Costs now zero petrol and zero gym fees. Also less opportunities to buy crisps etc when fuelling the car!

    The end result is that the person is much fitter and happier and has more money to save/spend sensibly on previously unaffordable items (e.g. trousers with smaller waistbands). Also it takes less time too.

    As I started by saying that is not achievable for everyone but I am sure most people could amend their lifestyles to gain cost and health benefits similar to those described above?

    Public Transport users probably have a walk to and from the station/Bus Stop so may gain health benefits that way?

    PS I hope the “Disagree” to Rod’s kinetic energy comment is a mischievous one?

    Nick, Lancashire
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Sitting on a bus or a train isn’t really any different from an exercise point of view to sitting in a car. Plus, the longer a journey takes due to any unnecessary slowing by local or national policy can mean less excercise. Travel isn’t an olympic sport, it is about getting from A to B by whatever means the traveller chooses. A healthy diet and adequate excercise are important regardless of transport modal choice.

    Paul Biggs, Staffordshire
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    The kinetic energy of a moving vehicle is equal to half it’s mass times its velocity squared!

    Rod King, 20’s Plenty for Us
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    I think the reaction to this post by Rod King highlights a weakness in the Agree/Disagree facility.

    My experience and to date accumulated knowledge and understanding would lead me to agree that more active travel would give overall health benefits – ignoring road risk that is.
    However according to the Agree/Disagree I am in the minority (until I “vote” that is.) What I would want to see is the reasoning behind those that disagree with Rod’s comments (and potentially mine after this is posted) to gain an understanding of their position. Perhaps I am making invalid assumptions but until I know the counter argument I may not change my position.

    I know it can take time to write a comment but in terms of improved knowledge and understanding it is worth the effort.

    I do hope people aren’t seeing a commenter’s name and disagreeing because of that as sometimes that seems to be the case?

    Also when more than one point is made in a post do I press agree or disagree if I agree with one or not the other? Too much thought required for a Friday afternoon!

    Nick, Lancashire
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    What’s interesting about this story is that from a Public Health perspective the most dangerous place on the roads to be is sitting in front of a steering wheel on a daily inactive commute, yet from a Road Safety perspective the most dangerous place on the roads to be is on foot or on pedals as a vulnerable road user.

    The more that the two disciplines can come together to reduce overall danger on the roads then both public health and road safety can be increased.

    Better air quality, more mobility for poorer, elderly and for children would all come from a fairer and less motor-vehicle dominated urban and village road network.

    Rod King
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

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