More walking, cycling linked to healthier weights worldwide

Aug 24, 2010 By Randy Dotinga

Amble, stroll or pedal: it's all good. A new study provides evidence supporting a seemingly obvious -- but unproven -- link between walking- and cycling-friendly communities and lower levels of obesity.

Researchers found that people are more likely to have healthy weights if they live in places where walking and are more common. The link held up among nations, cities and U.S. states.

The research does not prove that living in couch-potato land directly boosts a resident’s risk of being fat.

Still, the study findings suggests,“it’s really important to promote walking and cycling as safe, convenient and feasible modes of getting around on an everyday basis,” said lead author John Pucher, a professor who studies transportation at Rutgers University.

Pucher and colleagues analyzed statistics about walking and cycling for all purposes from 14 countries, including Sweden, Spain and Great Britain. They also looked at statistics about walking and cycling to work (it had to be the main way people got there) in all 50 states and 47 of the 50 largest U.S. cities.

Switzerland, the Netherlands and Spain had the highest levels of walking and cycling among the countries, with the United States in the bottom three with Australia and Canada. Among American cities, the highest rates of walking and cycling to work were in Boston, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Minneapolis and Seattle.

The researchers tried to find links between the levels of walking and cycling and those of physical activity, obesity and in the geographic areas. Their findings appear in the October issue of the .

There is a connection between more walking and cycling and lower levels of obesity and diabetes, the researchers found. Not surprisingly, they also linked more walking and cycling to higher overall levels of physical activity.

The study doesn’t calculate the overall percentage difference in levels of obesity and diabetes between places with the highest and lowest levels of walking and cycling. Nevertheless, Pucher said readers can calculate those numbers and find other statistics by examining research data.

In the big picture, the study results suggest that a big part of the gaps between American states and cities concerning health can be explained by differences in levels of and cycling, Pucher said.

While the link between more exercise and less obesity might seem obvious, he said, it needs to be backed up by scientific evidence. “As obvious as it is,” he said, “it’s shocking that Americans don’t want to do anything about it. It’s amazing how unconcerned most Americans are about this.”

Lawrence Frank, an associate professor who studies transportation at the University of British Columbia, said the study findings reflect the results of previous research that shows the effects of exercise (or the lack of it) on health.

is crucial,” Frank said. “If we keep designing communities in ways that make driving the more rational choice, we can expect health care costs to go up and quality of life to go down.”

Explore further: AMA examines economic impact of physicians

More information: Pucher J, et al. Walking and cycling to health: a comparison of recent evidence from city, state, and international studies. Am J Public Health 100(10), 2010.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Physical activity -- not just a 'walk in the park'

Jun 10, 2008

People with more green space in their living environment walk and cycle less often and for shorter amounts of time, according to new research published today in the open access journal BMC Public Health.

Kids walking to, from school are healthier

Aug 19, 2005

Children who walk to school have higher overall daily physical activity levels compared with those who travel by car, bus or train, a British study says.

Recommended for you

AMA examines economic impact of physicians

2 hours ago

(HealthDay)—Physicians who mainly engage in patient care contribute a total of $1.6 trillion in economic output, according to the American Medical Association (AMA)'s Economic Impact Study.

Less-schooled whites lose longevity, study finds

2 hours ago

Barbara Gentry slowly shifts her heavy frame out of a chair and uses a walker to move the dozen feet to a chair not far from the pool table at the Buford Senior Center. Her hair is white and a cough sometimes interrupts her ...

How to keep your fitness goals on track

3 hours ago

(HealthDay)—The New Year's resolutions many made to get fit have stalled by now. And one expert thinks that's because many people set their goals too high.

Suddenly health insurance is not for sale

Apr 18, 2014

(HealthDay)— Darlene Tucker, an independent insurance broker in Scotts Hill, Tenn., says health insurers in her area aren't selling policies year-round anymore.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Less-schooled whites lose longevity, study finds

Barbara Gentry slowly shifts her heavy frame out of a chair and uses a walker to move the dozen feet to a chair not far from the pool table at the Buford Senior Center. Her hair is white and a cough sometimes interrupts her ...

Low tolerance for pain? The reason may be in your genes

Researchers may have identified key genes linked to why some people have a higher tolerance for pain than others, according to a study released today that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 66th Annual ...

How to keep your fitness goals on track

(HealthDay)—The New Year's resolutions many made to get fit have stalled by now. And one expert thinks that's because many people set their goals too high.

Growing app industry has developers racing to keep up

Smartphone application developers say they are challenged by the glut of apps as well as the need to update their software to keep up with evolving phone technology, making creative pricing strategies essential to finding ...

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.