Find out how catching a bus, tram or train can boost your fitness
It goes without saying that travelling on foot or two wheels is infinitely better for your body, not to mention the planet and your wallet, than driving. But US research shows simply choosing public transport over the car is beneficial too. Experts studied the effects of a light-rail line in Charlotte, North Carolina and found commuters who shunned their car for the train walked an average of 2km a day, giving an average BMI reduction of 1.18 kg/m2 over 12 to 18 months – equivalent to a 1m 64cm person shedding 3kg. The train-users were also 81 per cent less likely to become obese.
Spending 30 minutes wedged in someone’s armpit on a rush-hour train may not feel life enhancing, but this isn’t the first research to highlight the possible benefits of walking to and from the station. In 2009, experts at University of British Columbia in Canada found public transport users are three times more likely to meet the suggested daily minimum of physical activity. And although the studies are small, they make sense, says James Woodcock of the Transport and Health Group at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. ‘Car driving causes physical inactivity. The human body is perfectly designed for personal transportation so even small amounts of walking to the bus stop or train station can be a lot healthier than driving.’
In the ongoing bid to shape up the nation, could health bosses use the findings as a positive tool? In some ways they already do. In 2009, NHS London launched the Think Feet First walking campaign to get capital-dwellers moving à pied and championed the subtle benefits of walking up escalators and to the end of tube platforms. Health considerations could start influencing the look and design of our public transport systems. ‘While a train station in the Netherlands is likely to be surrounded by bike parking, in the UK, we have car parks.
So in terms of future policy implications, the message is that public transport should be designed to encourage people to access it on foot or by bike, not by car,’ says Woodcock. ‘It’s clear the most direct, convenient and pleasant option for the majority of urban trips should be on foot or by bicycle, with public transport reserved for longer journeys.’
Be an active commuter
Rev up these basic benefits by making your journey even more active, says persoanl trainer Cat Dugdale.
-‘Look at an average esclator as 20 calories – if you walk up five of them i none day that is 100 calories per day,’ says Dugdale. Don’t forget it’s also great for the gluteal muscles in your bum.
– Multi-task while you travel. ‘Work your transversus abdominis muscles – the body’s natural corset – by simply drawing your belly button in for five seconds and releasing, and repeat 20 times. If you’re standing up, don’t hold on to the handrail – this is stability training at its best. The more corners, the better,’ adds Dugdale.
– ‘Don’t underestimate the extra calories you can burn by getting off one or two stops early, maybe even three if you can include a park. Done daily, this equal to 400 to 600 calories per week,’ she says.
-‘And, of course, the benfits of running, cycling or waking the whole way are plentiful,’ she adds.