Commuter cardio

I had to take the subway the other day. And it felt kind of strange to be down there for the first time in almost two months.

See, I’ve been walking everywhere since the beginning of the summer. I have no idea how far into the winter I can make this last. I just know I’m going to keep it up as long as I can.

Yes, it makes my travel time a little longer. But you know what? It’s worth it.

Sure, walking instead of driving adds fresh air and a little extra exercise to your day. But new research shows that this kind of “active commuting” can also cut your risk of diabetes nearly in half—and reduce high blood pressure, too.

It’s always nice to see studies look at the effects that “active travel” like this can have on conditions other than obesity. (Though obviously, it has protective benefits in that arena, too.) Especially since this type of strategy is so easy to incorporate into your daily routine.

I mean most of us have somewhere to go during the day. Why not bike, walk, or use public transportation to get there if you can?

Speaking of which, this is some of the first research to show that public transportation use is actually good for your health. And it makes sense, when you think about it.

Traveling this way usually requires you to walk for at least a portion of your trip. In fact, one study showed that Americans who use public transport like buses walk nearly 20 minutes on average as part of their commute.

As for this study, it looked at data from more than 20,000 UK residents. Of these subjects, 69 percent commuted to work via private transport (most likely their own cars). Meanwhile, 16 percent used public transportation and 12 percent and 3 percent walked or rode a bicycle, respectively.

Results showed that subjects who walked to work benefited from a 40 percent lower risk of diabetes and a 17 percent lower risk of high blood pressure. (Compared to those who drove to work, that is.) And simply using public transportation cut diabetes risk by 18 percent.

Not surprisingly, the effects these travel modes had on weight were similar. Public transportation cut risk of overweight and obesity by 15 percent. Walking lowered these odds by 20 percent.

And biking to work cut obesity risk by an even more impressive 37 percent.

I guess I may have to reconsider how I feel about NYC’s glitch-ridden CitiBike program. If they can iron out the notorious kinks in this new city-wide bike-sharing system, there’s no doubt it could make a serious difference to New Yorkers’ health.

It’s also yet another reason why I love city living. Say what you will about the traffic and the crowds. We urbanites often have no choice but to use public transportation or some other means of getting where we need to go.

Nine times out of 10, walking or biking ends up being the most convenient choice. And I think you’ll agree that convenient exercise is a win-win any way you slice it.


“Active travel to work and cardiovascular risk factors in the United kingdom.” Am J Prev Med. 2013 Sep;45(3):282-8.