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Take Transit: It’s Good for Your Health!

Justin Horner

Posted April 23, 2009 in Health and the Environment, Living Sustainably, Moving Beyond Oil, Solving Global Warming

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The more you learn about public transit, the happier about it you get.  As I’ve written earlier, transit is essential to create more livable communities and to cut down on global warming pollution.  Now, apparently, it’s also good for your health!

I don’t know about you, but I need all the exercise I can get.  So it may have been with a little bit of self-serving optimism that I read Transit and Health: Mode of Transportation, Employer-Sponsored Public Transit Pass Programs, and Physical Activity, by Ugo Lachapelle and Lawrence Frank of the University of British Columbia.  As a daily transit rider, the news, for me, was good.

By analyzing the travel habits of 4,156 Atlanta area residents, the study endeavored to “assess whether transit and car trips were associated with meeting the recommended levels of physical activity by using walking as a means of transportation.”  The idea was that transit riders are more likely to walk to and from transit, and to walk in the middle of the day for errands, while drivers would tend to walk less.  Walk distances for each group were then compared to the US Surgeon General’s recommended 30 minutes daily of moderate physical activity, which has been shown to reduce obesity levels, heart disease and hypertension.

Here are some of the report’s conclusions:

  • Across income groups, transit users walk longer distances, with higher income transit users(!) reporting the most walking;
  • The more transit trips you took, the greater your chance of meeting the Surgeon General’s recommended activity standard.  For car trips (as a driver) the relationship was the opposite.  Transit users had four times the chance of meeting the standard than those who didn’t take transit;
  • Having an employer-provided transit pass had a positive relationship with meeting the standard, as did even just having access to one(!);
  • Living in a low-density neighborhood was negatively associated with meeting the minimum standard.

Now, it’s important to note that simply meeting the Surgeon General’s minimum recommendation does not mean you are physically fit or free from the need to exercise more, but you certainly can’t get there without at least meeting the minimum standard.  The good news is that taking transit is a convenient way to integrate regular physical activity into your everyday life.  And, of course, expanding the availability of transit may give more Californians the opportunity to lead healthier lives.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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