Switching commuting mode from active travel to sedentary travel significantly reduces physical and mental health: UK perspective

Abundant research has been done on the association of mode of commuting and health/well-being and it is proven that active modes of commuting (cycling or walking) are associated with greater health benefits. The key question is, however, does the changes in the traveling mode have any effect on an individual’s health? A national level study conducted on the UK population and recently published in Health Economics has demonstrated that switching commuting mode from cycling/walking to car travel or public transport significantly reduces physical and mental health.

In this study, investigators matched individuals who change commuting modes with those whose commuting mode remained constant and compared physical and mental health between two cohorts. The study reported that:

“……results indicate a significant increase in physical and mental health for commuters switching from car to active forms of transport, particularly for women. We further observe a decline in physical health for individuals of both sexes who switch from active travel to car.”

Source: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hec.4184

“A change in mode from active travel to public transport leads to a decrease in reported mental health, largely for men, but we do not observe significant decreases in physical health. Mode changes in the opposite direction from public transport to active travel are associated with increases in reported satisfaction with health. The lack of an effect on physical health when changing between active and public transport may be due to accessing public transport requiring exercise, via walking to or from a bus or train station. As this is not the case for switches to and from car travel to active travel the benefits to physical health are more pronounced.”

“Mode changes between car and public transport do not lead to notable affects on physical or mental health outcomes or satisfaction with health.”

The study findings indicate that changing commuting mode has a significant impact on health and supported UK policy initiatives designed to encourage people to use active forms of travel more than car commuting.

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