Research has shown time and time again that physical activity keeps us healthy, but a recent Yale study has put a new twist on this seemingly common-sense knowledge.
The study, which appeared in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine in December 2012, found that people who use active forms of transportation, such as bicycling or walking, tend to have a lower body mass index and better cardiovascular health than those who do not. While many other studies have demonstrated positive benefits of occupational and leisure physical activity, this study was different in that it looked specifically at active transportation, said Mayur Desai SPH ’94 GRD ’97, study co-author and Yale School of Public Health epidemiology professor.
“The thing we focused on was not bicycling for exercise or walking because you want to go for a walk, but specifically for the purpose of getting to places,” Desai said.
In the study, Desai and Gregg Furie MED ’12 used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which conducts the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey on a continuous basis. Desai and Furie looked at data from 10,000 participants over the age of 20, using the 2007–’08 and 2009–’10 cohorts.
While data for the nationwide survey is largely self-reported, participants also undergo medical tests, such as blood tests, body mass index calculations and waist circumference measurements.
“You might just think, people who ride their bike to school or to the office, these are the people who are exercising anyway, so they are just healthier,” Desai said. “But even after you control the amount of time that people spend in occupational or leisure physical activity, the active transportation still appeared to convey health benefits, regardless of how much time you spend in other forms of activity.”
He added that the study used a multivariable model to account statistically for these uncontrolled variables, and that active transportation still had positive effects.
Researchers also found that while 76 percent of American adults engage in no active transportation, individuals who engage in more than 150 minutes of active transportation per week were 30 percent less likely to have high blood pressure and diabetes.
“We know that physical activity is essential to good health, but many individuals lack the time, resources or safe physical environment that are required to obtain recommended amounts of physical activity through work or recreation,” Furie said. “Active transportation provides an opportunity to incorporate physical activity into one’s daily routine.”
In demonstrating that active transportation is associated with desirable health outcomes, Furie said he hopes to encourage efforts to increase the use of active transportation through environmental design, policy and education. He also added that increased use of active transportation methods would bring environmental benefits in terms of reduced air pollution.
Founded on July 1, 1946, the CDC is the United States’ national public health institute.