New Zealanders who walk and cycle for transport are much more likely to have adequate levels of physical activity than those who drive cars.
The University of Otago Wellington study, released this week in the Journal of Transport and Health, has shown, for the first time, that New Zealanders who walk and cycle for transport have a 76 per cent higher chance of meeting the New Zealand physical activity guidelines than those who drive cars.
Lead author Dr Caroline Shaw says the study contributes to the growing body of evidence that “active transport” is an effective way of increasing physical activity for New Zealanders.
Dr Shaw notes the benefits of physical activity are well known, and include reducing and preventing many diseases.
“We already know that physical activity reduces diabetes, improves mental health (both preventing depression and reducing the symptoms of it), prevents some cancers, heart disease, obesity, stroke and reduces all-cause mortality,” says Dr Shaw, from the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago, Wellington.
“Physical activity is almost a panacea for many of the health issues that we face in New Zealand,” she says.
“However, only half of New Zealanders are currently sufficiently active. This study shows that if you walk or cycle to your main activity you are much more likely to be sufficiently active to gain the health benefits of physical activity.”
This study, which uses data from the Health and Lifestyles Survey undertaken by the Health Promotion Agency, analysed information from about 5000 adults from a cross-section of the NZ population.
“We have engineered physical activity out of modern life in the last few generations – we now need to engineer it back in,” says Dr Shaw.
The research, uniquely, looked at people who are not in work as well as those who are in work. It found that, no matter whether you are in work, retired, in tertiary education or unemployed, walking or cycling for transport means people are more likely to meet physical activity guidelines.
This finding supports the case for ongoing, and expanded, efforts to put in cycle ways in New Zealand cities and make cities more compact and walkable.
The good news is that these policies are also ways to achieve other positive outcomes such as reduced congestion, better social connectedness, decreased crime, reduced air pollution and carbon emissions.
This study also looked at whether people who take public transport to their main activity have higher levels of physical activity than those who drive. In contrast to other research, this study did not find strong evidence that people who take public transport have higher levels of physical activity than those who drive their cars.
The researchers also looked at who walks, cycles and takes public transport in New Zealand, and found that people who use these modes of transport are more likely to be younger, with lower incomes and are mostly men.
“The important questions to focus on now are what are the best policies and incentives to increase active transport levels and how to ensure that people who are currently insufficiently active for health take up active transport,” says Dr Shaw.
For more information, contact:
Dr Caroline Shaw
Department of Public Health
University of Otago, Wellington
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