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Driving is worst possible way to get to work: study

Dashing down the street in the cold, dreary light of a February morning to catch the streetcar that will carry you to your job may not sound like a cheerful experience. British researchers at the University of East Anglia, however, have spent the last eighteen years studying how people get to work in Britain, and they have found that the morning bus or train ride is in fact quite good for you. Those who make the morning trek to train station or bus stop are happier and healthier than the guys sitting alone in their comfortable cars, listening to news or music, sipping coffee, and cursing the traffic.

The study looked at people who used to drive to work but then switched to walking, cycling or riding public transit. These people were found to be happier and healthier for having made the switch. The study showed, quite simply, that the longer people spend commuting in cars the worse they feel, and the longer they spend walking to work, the better they feel. Specifically, “active commuters” could concentrate better at work and felt less stressed. These psychological benefits are on top of the physical benefits of walking and cycling that are “widely documented.”

A “surprising” finding was that even having to deal with service disruptions, crowded buses and trains, and all the hassles that sometimes go with riding public transit did not cancel the positive benefits people experienced. The study’s authors commented that the walk to the bus stop or train, and the time spent reading or relaxing or socializing once on the train or bus, “appears to cheer people up.”

The British study concludes that if more people were encouraged to use public transit or to walk and cycle to work more often “there could be noticeable mental health benefits.”

This study is but the latest to look at the benefits of walking and the dangers of too much sitting. A year ago, a study done at the Imperial College London came to similar conclusions. Those who walk to work are about 40 per cent less likely to have diabetes, compared to those who drive. Walkers are 17 per cent less likely to have high blood pressure, and are less likely to be obese.

A Canadian study that focused on adolescents found that greater walking and cycling time was associated with greater aerobic fitness, lower BMI and waist circumference, lower cholesterol and better grip strength.

Stress-reducing benefits of walking

A group that advocates for walking, Every Body Walk, lists numerous benefits to be derived from walking outdoors.

  • Walking, especially in green spaces, calms you and puts your brain in a meditative state.
  • Walking boosts endorphin production in the brain, which reduces stress.
  • Walking with friends is even more beneficial, reducing stress further.
  • Walking boosts energy and reduces fatigue.

[colorbox title=”General physical benefits of walking*” color=”#333333″]

Regular brisk walking can help you:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Prevent or manage various conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes
  • Strengthen your bones
  • Lift your mood Improve your balance and coordination

The faster, farther and more frequently you walk, the greater the benefits.

Walking technique

Turning your normal walk into a fitness stride requires good posture and purposeful movements.

  • Hold your head up and look forward, not at the ground
  • Hold your neck, shoulders and back relaxed, not stiffly upright
  • Swing your arms freely with a slight bend in your elbows
  • Keep your stomach muscles slightly tightened and your back straight, not arched forward or backward
  • Walk smoothly, rolling your foot from heel to toe

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*Adapted from Mayo Clinic material

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