Active Commuting Is Good for You and the Environment
WASHINGTON — Your to-do list starts the minute you wake up in the morning. Shower, coffee, breakfast, take kids to school and head to work. Maybe you’d like to go to the gym before you start your day, but you don’t have time. Instead of getting in your car, get some movement with active commuting.
Whether you walk, bike, or take public transportation, starting your day with light exercise has research-backed physical and mental health benefits. It’s also environmentally friendly. In the DMV area, opportunities abound. Here, we’ll explain how, when, and why to actively commute — along with tips for remote workers.
What Is Active Commuting?
Active commuting refers to getting to work without using a car, resulting in more physical activity. Depending on where you live and work, it may not be possible, but, for many people in Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas, it is.
Here are some suggestions:
- Cycling: Get your own bike, use Capital Bikeshare or Lime bikeshare.
- Walking: If you live close enough, walking to work will boost your daily step count.
- Public Transportation: Take the metro, bus, or both. Studies show that people who take public transportation walk more than people who drive. Walking to your bus stop and through D.C.’s large metro stations gets you more steps than walking to and from your car.
Actively commuting to work helps you start your day with exercise, and doing it on your way home gives you time to unwind after the work day and before your evening activities.
If you work from home, you can still start and finish your day with a walk or bike ride or “commute” to a nearby coffee shop or co-working space. Getting sunlight and fresh air can boost your mood and give you a break from your home environment.
Why Actively Commute?
In today’s world, we spend a lot of time sitting, which leads to chronic health conditions. Getting more physical activity is the only way to counteract a sedentary lifestyle, and active commuting is a convenient way to sneak more activity into your life.
Reduces Risk of Chronic Diseases
The World Health Organization recommends 150 minutes of moderate weekly exercise to help prevent chronic health conditions. Many people do not reach the minimum, and active commuting can help.
Research shows that walking or cycling to work reduces your risk of developing coronary heart disease. A 2019 meta-analysis showed active commuting reduces your risk of cardiovascular diseases and all-cause mortality. A 2021 review of studies also shows it lowers your risk of hypertension, diabetes and obesity.
Improves Physical Fitness
There are many ways to define physical fitness, but two common markers are cardiorespiratory fitness and muscular fitness. CF refers to how efficient your heart is at pumping blood and oxygen throughout your body. Getting your heart rate up during cardio exercise helps it improve. MF refers to muscular strength. Building strength and muscle in the gym makes activities of daily life easier and helps prevent injury.
A 2020 review of studies showed that active commuting has a positive impact on physical fitness. Cycling improved CF more while walking improved MF. Cycling can be higher intensity cardio, while walking is weight-bearing exercise. You engage more muscles to support your body weight. Both are beneficial.
May Boost Mental Health
Regular exercise is a well-known method to help with mental health. It can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression and boost your mood, self-esteem and cognitive function.
Research shows that cycling or walking to work can improve quality-of-life. Another study showed that active commuting, rather than driving, enhances well-being. More time spent walking to work increased well-being, while more time spent driving decreased it.
A 2021 study on cycling showed that people who bike to work had decreased symptoms of depression and increased feelings of happiness and well-being.
It’s important to note that other studies show the link between active commuting and mental health is inconsistent. It suggests active commuting alone may not help your mental health. But, it is a way to get more exercise, which can help.
Active commuting also has a positive impact on the environment. The cycling study notes that using more bikes and less cars reduces traffic, leading to less air pollution and noise pollution. Both types of pollution can affect your physical and mental health.
See the Sights
People from all over the world visit Washington, D.C. Depending on your route, actively commuting may take you past historical landmarks, and up and down scenic, tree-lined streets. If you’re new to the area or just want to do some sightseeing, you’ll get to do it on your way to work.
Enjoy the Ride
Add more movement to your day by getting to and from work without a car. Walk, bike, take public transportation, or mix and match. Research shows getting more physical activity helps prevent chronic diseases, improves physical fitness, and boosts your mental health. If you struggle to meet your exercise goals, take advantage of your commute. Plus, you’ll be kind to the environment and get to soak up the D.C. sights along the way.
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