Your Commute Is Affecting Your Health

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How many minutes is your commute to work? The average American spends around 25 minutes - one way - according to the U.S. Census Bureau. If you want to take a look at how your commute compares to that of your neighbors, go to this interactive map to find the average number of minutes in your zip code. 

Assuming that you also go back home, that's a big chunk of a day. If only there was something important to your health that could be accomplished during that time... 

A new study suggests that we should start to think about that commuting time differently, and sheds light on how your chosen method of commuting may be affecting your health. More specifically, it shows that cycling to work has substantial health benefits. 

The study had 263,540 participants (52% women; mean age 52.6), recruited from 22 sites across the UK. They looked at the mode of transportation used to commute to work on a typical day. The commuting methods were broken down into active (walking, cycling, mixed mode) versus non-active (car or public transport.) As a side note, I would personally argue that taking the subway in Manhattan during rush hour is hardly 'non-active' - with trying to stay alive and all - but agree that it may not be the best way to increase health benefits.  

Obviously, people who had a more active commute were healthier. But the healthiest group were those that biked to work. Commuting by cycling (or any routine that included some cycling) was the most beneficial in lowering risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer and all causes of mortality. 

These associations were independent of sex, age, deprivation, ethnicity, smoking status, recreational and occupational physical activity, sedentary behavior, dietary patterns, and other confounding factors, including body mass index and co-morbidities.

So, why not spend your commute getting fit instead of sitting on a bus playing Candy Crush? Even the excuse of biking being difficult in a city is being erased. Many urban areas offer bike sharing programs to ease the hassle of needing to store a bike in the city's small apartments or worry about the security of the bike. These programs are growing steadily and becoming incredibly popular. Last year in NYC, people took nearly 14 million rides on Citi Bikes - the city's bike sharing program. That is a 40 percent increase over 2015.

The American Heart Association recommends thirty minutes of activity a day, five times a week. So, even if you bike on only a few days, there will be benefits to your heart. 

It is certainly not surprising to learn that people who spend 50 minutes on a bike every day have health benefits. However, these studies are important and relevant because we need to implement policies that make building exercise into our daily routine easier. Research highlighting the benefits of bike commuting may serve as a scaffold for implementing policies to support more city bike programs, construct more bike lanes, and build better bike storage facilities.

Look, you have to go to work anyway - why not become healthier while doing it?