Walking to Public Transit May Meet Daily Exercise Needs

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Walking and Healthy Life

Saving at the gasoline pump isn't the only benefit of taking public transportation.

Some people who use public transportation regularly to commute to and from work, run errands or make social visits may be getting the 30-plus minutes of daily moderate-to-vigorous physical activity recommended by the U.S. Surgeon General, according to a new study.

Researchers combed through results from the 2001 National Household Travel Survey and examined walking times for 3,312 transit users, finding that their average walking time was nearly 25 minutes on days they used public transit, according to a study published in the November issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

However, the vigor with which participants walked was unclear. "Although we were able to measure whether a person who walked to or from transit achieved 30 minutes of physical activity for a particular day, there is no way to determine whether it meets the surgeon general's recommendation," says Lilah M. Besser of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and lead author of the study.

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Of the transit trips studied, 38.9 percent were made commuting to and from work. The study excluded people under 18 years of age and people who combined another mode of transportation, such as driving, to reach transit. People who walked 30 minutes or more to transit tended to be in households earning less than $15,000 annually, were either in the youngest age group or the over-50 group and were less educated. Women and minorities were also overrepresented.

"This paper does not provide suggestions on how all Americans can obtain physical activity," Besser said, "but rather it demonstrates that an additional benefit to encouraging new transit opportunities and using existing transit is that it can increase physical activity levels."

"Physical activity intervention studies comprise a relatively new area of research compared with other type of intervention activities," said Andrea L. Dunn of the Cooper Institute, a nonprofit research organization focusing on the relationship between living habits and health. "We also should be asking what critical studies need to be conducted to provide sufficient evidence for the next generation of promising interventions."

"Improvements in the [man-made] environment, such as increased access to public transit, may provide a viable and effective option to promote and maintain active lifestyles," the authors conclude.

Nearly half of Americans currently do not meet the 30-minute recommendation, according to Department of Health and Human Services figures.

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