February 2, 2023

What do you do for exercise? Do you bike or walk? Why not do that on the way or at least part of the way to work.

Walking or biking to work, even part way, is linked with fitness, but very few Americans do it, according to a study of more than 2,000 middle-aged city dwellers.

In what may be the first large U.S. study of health and commuting, the researchers found only about 17 percent of workers walked or bicycled any portion of their commute.

Why Biking Is Better

benefits of biking

The new study is based on tests and questionnaires from 2,364 workers who were part of a larger federally funded study on heart disease risk. The participants lived in Chicago, Minneapolis, Birmingham, Ala., and Oakland, Calif. They were asked in 2005-2006 about their commuting habits in the past 12 months.

The study has a chicken-and-egg problem: The already-active people could be the ones leaving their cars at home. Gordon-Larsen acknowledged that fitness contributes to wanting to walk to work, but she said the reverse also is probably true.

Those active commuters did better on treadmill tests of fitness, even when researchers accounted for their leisure-time physical activity levels, suggesting commuter choices do make a difference.

For men in the study, but not women, the active commuters also had healthier numbers for body mass index, blood pressure, insulin and blood fats called triglycerides. Women walked or biked shorter distances and they may have done so less vigorously, the authors speculated.

“You’re building in the impossibility of actively commuting to work,” Sallis said. Cities that build bike paths like Portland, Ore., see higher rates of cycling, he said, and companies can provide showers, changing areas and secure bike parking to encourage active commuting.

bikingCrumbling sidewalks, lack of bike paths and sheer distances all keep American commuters in their cars, experts said.

“I would love to bike to work, but it is completely unsafe for me to do so,” said Penny Gordon-Larsen of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who led the study in Monday’s Archives of Internal Medicine. “There’s one real small, narrow area where there’s no bike lane.”

She drives to work, but first she walks her kids to school.

Prior research has found that the countries with the highest levels of walking and biking also have the lowest levels of obesity. But little research has looked at the health of Americans who walk or bike to work, said James Sallis of San Diego State University, who studies environmental factors and policies that influence physical activity. He wasn’t involved in the new study.

“I’m really glad to see people starting to take a look at this in the U.S.,” Sallis said.

Zoning in many U.S. cities separates workplaces from homes, lengthening commutes, he said.

28 thoughts on “Walking or Biking to Work to Improve Health

  1. I love to cycle to work, it sets me up for the day. I also try to squeeze in a walk at lunch time if I have to go to the shop. Getting that bit of exercise in the morning also gets my metabolism going which I’m told is a good thing. I don’t live in a hilly area so it’s easy for me 🙂

  2. Ever notice how it is usually the simple ways that continually produce the biggest, most consistent results. In this case, as the author pointed out, just the simple act of walking or biking can make a difference in a person’s life as well as the environment.

  3. This post really resonates with me.
    I lived in the Netherlands for approximately 10 years and became an avid bike commuter. In fact I never owned a vehicle in all these years and felt no need to do so. When the weather turned ugly I simply relied on the excellent public transport system as a means of transport. I became incredibly fit and would cycle across Amsterdam to my work without a moments hesitation. The bike paths are remarkable and make for very safe passage. I have since moved to New Zealand where I am quite reluctant to commute by bike for safety reasons. We now have to rely on two vehicles to serve our need for transportation and begrudge this dependency. I feel there should be a move for change and bike paths should become mandatory in every town/city.

  4. I agree that the bike is a very wonderful tool for fitness. But those of who live in the suburban areas of our large cities find it a difficult commute.

  5. I used to bike to work almost every day, but then moved to a different part of town and it wasn’t feasible. I still bike when I can, but obviously not as much as I used to…and it shows.

  6. To many darn mountains around me for bike riding (Healesville, Australia). Walking always comes packed with multi-benefits but nothing beats my Flamenco Dance Class!

  7. The problem is that if the only way to get to work within a reasonable time is to drive, you drive. We built this giant suburbia, and now we wonder why everyone is fat. The only way you can get around is by car, polluting the environment, isolated from others. it is ridiculous. Walking and biking not only keep you in good shape, but you feel connected.

  8. I think biking is one of the best ways to have fun and get some excersie, one thing from experience plan ahead to make sure you don’t have to pedal up any real steep climbs, instant killer.

  9. I just started up a walking program and have lost 20 pounds in the last couple months, the key is you have to get out there biking running or walking as long as your moving your body you will get some benefit.

  10. When I started using a bike I noticed less pain in my joints too. Also has helped keep my under control. And probably one of the most enjoyable forms of exercise in my routine! Thanks for the information.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *