Sedentary lifestyle is a major modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular diseases and triggers substantial costs due to early retirement and the inability to participate in the work force. Active commuting has been proposed to at least in part overcome these problems; however, convincing data to support this recommendation are sparse.
To investigate the health effects of active commuting.
Methods: 73 subjects (age: 46±9 years, 38% males) were 2:1 randomized to an intervention group (IG, n=51) or control group (CG, n=22). Depending on the distance to the work place, IG participants either traveled by a combination of public transport and walking and/or cycling (n=25), or they commuted by walking and/or cycling only (n=26). The CG was asked to commute as usual. Exercise capacity, body composition, everyday physical activity, quality of life, and cardiovascular risk factors were assessed at baseline and after a study period of one year.
Results: Groups did not differ significantly at baseline. Daily self-reported commuting details were verified by GPS-tracking. Subjects randomized to IG changed their commuting habits, whereas CG did not (%time of commuting: IG: walking/cycling/public transport: 93%, car: 7%, CG: walking/cycling/public transport: 54%, car: 46%, p<0.001). Time to commute did not differ significantly. Percentage of age-predicted exercise capacity (IG: 145±25 to 155±31, p<0.001; CG: 142±25 to 136±25%, p=0.058; IG vs. CG: p=0.003) improved significantly in IG and remained unchanged in CG, whereas everyday physical activity (IG: 3756±4150 to 7092±6192, p<0.001; CG: 5251±5076 to 5609±4470 MET-min/week, p=0.539; IG vs. CG: p=0.067) improved significantly in IG and remained unchanged in CG, however the difference between groups only showed a statistical trend. In IG but not in CG subjects lost body fat (% of body weight: IG: 34.5±7.7 to 33.2±7.8%, p=0.003; CG: 35.0±9.1 to 34.8±7.4%; p=0.428; IG vs. CG: p=0.496), however no significant difference between groups was achieved. Cardiovascular risk profile assessed by HeartScore in these relatively healthy subjects remained essentially unchanged in both groups (p>0.05 for both groups). In quality of life assessment (SF-36), general health (p=0.008), vitality (p=0.003) and mental health (p=0.012) changed significantly in IG, whereas no significant changes were noted in CG (p>0.05, IG vs. CG: all p<0.001). No serious adverse events occurred during the study.
Conclusion: Our results indicate that active commuting to work may counteract certain downsides of a sedentary lifestyle without prolonging the time-period of the commuting to work substantially.