Man cycling on road
  • 9 October 2023

Shake Up Your Commute, Shape Up Your Health

Andrew BayleyActive Travel Advisor

A lot of us just don’t get as much time as we’d like to exercise, but what if there was a way to get fitter, healthier and happier without eating up too much of your day? Walking or cycling to work is a great way to maximise your time use, save money and help the environment, all at the same time.

We all know that physical activity is associated with many improvements in health and wellbeing, but what a lot of us don’t realise it that even a short daily walk can make huge differences, including lower death rates and lower risk of heart disease. And best of all, it benefits people of all ages, ranging from helping children maintain a healthy weight to reducing conditions such as hip fractures in frail older people.

The statistics don’t lie. A half hour walk – which will take you a nearly 2 miles – reduces the risk all mortality by up to 20% and cardiovascular disease by up to 30%. This means that regular walkers are likely to live longer than non-walkers. Walking and cycling also reduce the risk of high blood pressure, stroke, and high cholesterol. Walking expends energy and therefore can help energy balance and body composition, reducing obesity.

A short cycle to and from work can also have big impacts for seemingly small amounts of effort. A half hour bike ride will burn 200 to 350 calories, but the benefits extend beyond that – sports scientists say that this amount of exercise raises your metabolism for several hours afterwards. On top of that, people who routinely cycle to work have a fitness level equal to someone 10 years younger.

A study of over a quarter million people found that cycling to work is linked with a 45% lower risk of developing cancer, and a 46% lower risk of cardiovascular disease compared to commuting by car or public transport. Besides getting more exercise you will get a bigger dose of vitamin D than sitting in the car or on a train, even if it’s cloudy. This vitamin D boosts your immune system, brain and bones, providing protection against numerous illnesses and diseases.

On average, people who regularly walk or cycle take one less sick day per year. This doesn’t sound like much but saves the UK economy a whopping £83 million per year.

There is also a strong link between physical activity and mental health. Researchers have discovered that active people have 1/3 the rate of moderate to severe depression. Exercise also plays a huge role in reducing stress and anxiety, as well as helping some people with their self-esteem.

Lower Health Risk Infographic

When you exercise, more oxygen is pumped to your brain which helps manage anxiety and depression. Exercise also produces feel-good chemicals like serotonin, dopamine and endorphins that all help to make us feel more positive.

They say a journey starts with a single step and changing your commute patterns is no different. Don’t just throw yourself into it headlong without taking a moment to plan ahead. At first you may need to slowly get your fitness up – if you need help take a look at some of the activities available on the website or register an assessment.

Be wary of overcommitting, maybe start by setting aside one day per week. This gets you used to building physical activity into your commute without stressing your body too much. If this seems like too much, you can always try things like taking the bus and getting off a few stops early. This builds a few extra steps into your day and as you know, every little bit adds up.

If you’re planning to cycle, make sure your bicycle is up to the task. If you’re unsure take it to a professional to have it looked over. If your bike is up to the task, it’ll make your journey even smoother and more fun. Once your bike is ready, make sure that you’ve planned your route ahead of time. Knowing how to travel safely is key.

Once you’re remember to give it time. It’ll take a few weeks to settle into your new routine – and good habits can take a while to stick. But the long-term rewards will make every step of the journey worth it.

Go to our Active Travel page for more information about how to get started!

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