The Health Benefits of Walking + Transit

Walking to the bus stop or train station?  It might be the easiest way to do something for your health!

Do you have a 10-15 minute walk to get to your bus stop or train station?  That’s a great addition to your commute – you can get somewhere and improve your health at the same time.

Michael Huber, health consultant at the Center for Prevention of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, notes the strong inverse relationship between obesity and active transportation use, like transit. Transit users walk more throughout the day, which correlates to a reduced risk of heart disease, obesity, stroke and diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control. A daily walking target for heart health is 22 minutes per day, which fewer than half of adults in the United States achieve. Public transit users, however, almost all meet or exceed the 22 minute target while walking to and from transit stops.

Bassett, D. et al. (2008) Walking, Cycling, and Obesity Rates in Europe, North America, and Australia. Journal of Physical Activity and Health 5: 795-814.Research shows a high inverse correlation between “rates of active transportation”—namely, trips taken on foot, bike, bus, or train—and obesity. In a study tracking health indicators in the United States and Europe from 1994 to 2006, U.S. participants took transit the least—and were the most obese.

The U.S. has relatively poor health outcomes and high healthcare costs compared with peers, due in part to high per capita traffic fatality rates and diseases resulting from sedentary living. Public transit improvements can improve health outcomes and reduce healthcare costs.

Inadequate physical activity contributes to numerous health problems, causing an estimated 200,000 annual deaths in the U.S., and significantly increasing medical costs. Among physically able adults, average annual medical expenditures are 32% lower for those who achieve physical activity targets ($1,019 per year) than for those who are sedentary ($1,349 per year).

The benefits of public transit use spread far beyond individual public health. Fewer cars on the road correlate to fewer automobile traffic accidents, and less air pollution. Families and individuals without a car are able to access better medical care and food options when they have access to and use public transit.

It’s easy to engage in walking on a daily basis. Walking is a safe low-impact exercise for all ages, and it’s fun and gets you where you need to go.  Walking has numerous health benefits, including:

  • Controls and prevent hypertension
  • Increases HDL-cholesterol levels (good cholesterol)
  • Controls weight
  • Increases bone density
  • Decreases mental stress
  • Improves circulation and posture

Sources: www.activelivingresearch.org, www.walkboston.org, www.apta.com (VTPI: Evaluating Public Transportation Health Benefits), Federal Transit Administration