Active Commuting: Why You Should Walk or Bike to Work
Walking or biking to work does more than help you save on gas money. An active commute could be the key to better health.

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The work commute often gets a bad rap. Between traffic and the high cost of gas, parking spots, or mass transit tickets, it can be the most dreadful part of the workday.

But commuting to work can also be the healthiest part of your workday. You save on gas and improve the environment, too. How? All you have to do is leave your car at home and grab your walking shoes or bicycle.

Active commuting and your health
A large study done over a 20-year period found that people who walk or bike to work (called "active commuting") were healthier and in better shape than people who didn't. Men with active commutes also had:

  • Lower body mass index (BMI) and body weight
  • Lower fasting blood sugar levels
  • Lower blood pressure levels
  • Lower triglyceride levels
  • Higher HDL levels ("good" cholesterol)

The researchers think the reason why women didn't gain these health benefits was because men in this study walked or biked farther and at a higher intensity.

But many other studies show that walking and biking can help all people lower the risk for heart disease and other health conditions:

  • Briskly walking for an hour each day can help adults ward off weight gain.
  • Biking just 3 hours per week can cut the risk of heart disease and stroke in half.

Embrace an active commute
If you live fairly close to your work site - within 5 miles or so - try active commuting. Check with your doctor first though before upping your activity level. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Do a test run. On a day when you are off from work, take a trial walk or bike ride to your place of employment. Find the best route and time how long the commute takes.
  • Ease into it. You don't have to walk or bike to work every day. Just replace one or two inactive commutes a week with a walk or bike ride at first. Or consider active commuting to or from work instead of doing both. Walk or bike to work and find a carpool buddy or take public transportation to get home.
  • Keep an eye on safety. Obey all traffic laws. Walkers should use sidewalks and cross in crosswalks only when the traffic signal says it's safe. Cyclists should bike in the same direction as traffic, obey all traffic signals, and wear a helmet at all times. Make backup transportation arrangements for when the weather is poor.
  • Talk to your employer. Find out where you should store your bike, if showers and lockers are available in your office building, and if any incentives are offered for active commuting.

If you use public transportation
You can still have an active commute if you take a train or bus to work. Just get off or on a stop or two early and walk the rest of the way. A shorter trip on mass transit may also save you money.

If you live far from work
Unfortunately, walking or biking to work isn't an option for many people. But you can still reap the benefits of an active commute by adding activity to other parts of your day.

Aim for 30 minutes of exercise each workday. Instead of going out to lunch, spend part of your break walking. Or find a park or gym that's on your route to work. Keep workout clothes and athletic shoes in your car at all times so you're always ready for a workout.

By Jenilee Matz, MPH, Staff Writer
Created on 05/23/2011
Updated on 05/25/2011
Sources:
  • Federal Facilities Environmental Stewardship and Compliance Assistance Center. Implementing a successful bicycle and active commuting program in the Washington, DC area.
  • American Council on Exercise. Time-saving tips for on-the-job fitness.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Association of workplace supports with active commuting.
  • Gordon-Larsen P, Boone-Heinonen J, Sidney S, Sternfeld B, Jacobs Jr. DR, Lewis CE. Active commuting and cardiovascular disease risk. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2009;169(13):1216-1223.
Copyright © OptumHealth.
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