Menus Subscribe Search

Fit to be Ride(ing): Public Transit Patrons Pretty Physically Active

• March 31, 2009 • 7:40 PM

Users of public transportation often fit in the activity guidelines proposed by the federal Health and Human Services department, just by walking to their bus or train every day.

As part of a healthy lifestyle, the U.S. Department of Human Health and Services recommends individuals be physically active for a total of 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

These levels of “moderate” physical activity, such as walking, dancing or climbing stairs, can reduce obesity, hypertension and heart disease in many individuals.

But in a world of fast food and even faster workweeks, not everyone has time to squeeze even a moderate amount of moderate physical activity.

According to recently published research in the Journal of Public Health Policy, however, if you are a public transit user, odds are you don’t need to worry as much about meeting those fitness targets. University of British Columbia researchers Ugo Lachapelle and Lawrence Frank found people who ride public transportation, such as buses and subways, are more likely to maintain a healthy, physically active lifestyle courtesy of the commute to their commute than individuals who drive their own cars to work.

“Transit users are also walkers by definition because buses and trains seldom offer door-to-door service,” they said in the article, “In metropolitan Atlanta, for example, walking and cycling account for 70 percent of trips to and 76 percent of trips from Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority transit stations.”

In the study, Lachapelle and Frank analyzed a 2001-02 survey of 18,326 metropolitan Atlanta residents and their access to personal vehicles, the number of daily public transit trips, and proximity to transit stations and local merchants. Using these demographics they were able to estimate the average amount of walking each individual performed daily as an indication of their overall physical activity.

“A person that has walked on average 30 minutes in a day was considered to meet (the federal) guidelines and receive health benefits associated with an active lifestyle,” says Lachapelle.

While only 5.4 percent of the individuals surveyed actually used public transportation, the odds that they met the HHS’s physical activity requirements were 2.3 times greater than those of a car commuter.

Lachapelle and Frank are quick to specify that the results of their analysis cannot predict an activity level beyond those associated with walks to transit stations and local merchants.

“We have every reason to believe that some car riders can be extremely fit … and that some transit riders can be largely inactive apart from the walks they take to travel to destinations,” said Lachapelle, “However, our results show that on a population basis, this purposeful form of physical activity (walking) is much more strongly associated with taking public transit trips.”

Individuals who had access to and used employer-sponsored transit passes were the most likely to reach the physical fitness standard. It is evidence not that employer-sponsored passes should be promoted, but that employers should locate offices by public transit hubs (and perhaps then offer passes).

“Getting employers involved in travel-demand management can ultimately help reshape our regions,” says Lachapelle, “Employers are able to create economies of scale, in this case by having many commuters converge to their location every day. Many observers support the idea that there is much untapped opportunity for ‘greening’ the corporate taxation system (by incentivizing public transit).”

Lachapelle believes the results of his and Frank’s research will have implications for future city and transportation planning. “The study, we hope, can provide intergovernmental support for public transportation, and (promote) the need to assess the health benefits of public transit when accounting for the benefits and costs of public transit infrastructure.”

And here we thought high gas prices were motivation enough to use public transportation …

Sign up for our free e-newsletter.

Are you on Facebook? Become our fan.

Add our news to your site.

Julia Griffin
Julia Griffin is a master's candidate in environmental science and management at the University of California, Santa Barbara. A fellow at the Miller-McCune Center in 2009, before that she worked as a film researcher for John-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Future Society and a producer/writer in CNN's Science and Technology Unit. She has a degree in marine biology from Duke University, and hopes to pursue a career in science and environmental journalism.

More From Julia Griffin

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

July 28 • 4:00 PM

Border Fences Make Unequal Neighbors and Enforce Social Inequality

What would it look like if you combined Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, demographically speaking? What about the United States and Guatemala?


July 28 • 2:00 PM

Are Patient Privacy Laws Being Misused to Protect Medical Centers?

A 1996 law known as HIPAA has been cited to scold a mom taking a picture of her son in a hospital, to keep information away from police investigating a possible rape at a nursing home, and to threaten VA whistleblowers.


July 28 • 12:00 PM

Does Internet Addiction Excuse the Death of an Infant?

In Love Child, documentary filmmaker Valerie Veatch explores how virtual worlds encourage us to erase the boundary between digital and real, no matter the consequences.


July 28 • 11:11 AM

NASA Could Build Entire Spacecrafts in Space Using 3-D Printers

This year NASA will experiment with 3-D printing small objects in space. That could mark the beginning of a gravity-free manufacturing revolution.


July 28 • 10:00 AM

Hell Isn’t for Real

You may have seen pictures of the massive crater in Siberia. It unfortunately—or fortunately—does not lead to the netherworld.


July 28 • 8:00 AM

Why Isn’t Obama More Popular?

It takes a while for people to notice that things are going well, particularly when they’ve been bad for so long.


July 28 • 7:45 AM

The Most Popular Ways to Share Good and Bad Personal News

Researchers rank the popularity of all of the different methods we have for telling people about our lives, from Facebook to face-to-face.


July 28 • 6:00 AM

Hams Without Ends and Cats Tied to Trees: How We Create Traditions With Dubious Origins

Does it really matter if the reason for why you give money to newlyweds is based on a skewed version of a story your parents once told you?


July 28 • 4:00 AM

A Belief in ‘Oneness’ Is Equated With Pro-Environment Behavior

New research finds a link between concern for the environment and belief in the concept of universal interconnectedness.


July 25 • 4:00 PM

Flying Blind: The View From 30,000 Feet Puts Everything in Perspective

Next time you find yourself in an airplane, consider keeping your phone turned off and the window open.


July 25 • 2:00 PM

Trophy Scarves: Race, Gender, and the Woman-as-Prop Trope

Social inequality unapologetically laid bare.


July 25 • 1:51 PM

Confusing Population Change With Migration

A lot of population change is baked into a region from migration that happened decades ago.


July 25 • 1:37 PM

Do Not Tell Your Kids That Eating Vegetables Will Make Them Stronger

Instead, hand them over in silence. Or, market them as the most delicious snack known to mankind.



July 25 • 11:07 AM

The West’s Groundwater Is Being Sucked Dry

Scientists were stunned to discover just how much groundwater has been lost from beneath the Colorado River over the past 10 years.


July 25 • 10:00 AM

Shelf Help: New Book Reviews in 100 Words or Less

What you need to know about Bad Feminist, XL Love, and The Birth of Korean Cool.



July 25 • 8:00 AM

The Consequences of Curing Childhood Cancer

The majority of American children with cancer will be cured, but it may leave them unable to have children of their own. Should preserving fertility in cancer survivors be a research priority?


July 25 • 6:00 AM

Men Find Caring, Understanding Responses Sexy. Women, Not So Much

For women looking to attract a man, there are advantages to being a caring conversationalist. But new research finds it doesn’t work the other way around.


July 25 • 4:00 AM

Arizona’s Double-Talk on Execution and Torture

The state is certain that Joseph Wood’s death was totally constitutional. But they’re looking into it.


July 24 • 4:00 PM

Overweight Americans Have the Lowest Risk of Premature Death

Why do we use the term “normal weight” when talking about BMI? What’s presented as normal certainly isn’t the norm, and it may not even be what’s most healthy.


July 24 • 2:00 PM

California’s Lax Policing of the Fracking Industry Has Put the Drought-Stricken State in a Terrible Situation

The state’s drought has forced farmers to rely on groundwater, even as aquifers have been intentionally polluted due to exemptions for the oil industry.


July 24 • 12:00 PM

What’s in a Name? The Problem With Washington’s Football Team

A senior advisor to the National Congress of American Indians once threw an embarrassing themed party that involved headdresses. He regrets that costume now, but knows his experience is one many others can relate to.


July 24 • 11:00 AM

How Wildlife Declines Are Leading to Slavery and Terrorism

As wildlife numbers dwindle, wildlife crimes are rising—and that’s fueling a raft of heinous crimes committed against humans.


July 24 • 10:58 AM

How the Supremes Pick Their Cases—and Why Obamacare Is Safe for Now

The opponents of Obamacare who went one for two in circuit court rulings earlier this week are unlikely to see their cases reach the Supreme Court.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

NASA Could Build Entire Spacecrafts in Space Using 3-D Printers

This year NASA will experiment with 3-D printing small objects in space. That could mark the beginning of a gravity-free manufacturing revolution.

The Most Popular Ways to Share Good and Bad Personal News

Researchers rank the popularity of all of the different methods we have for telling people about our lives, from Facebook to face-to-face.

Do Not Tell Your Kids That Eating Vegetables Will Make Them Stronger

Instead, hand them over in silence. Or, market them as the most delicious snack known to mankind.

The West’s Groundwater Is Being Sucked Dry

Scientists were stunned to discover just how much groundwater has been lost from beneath the Colorado River over the past 10 years.

How Wildlife Declines Are Leading to Slavery and Terrorism

As wildlife numbers dwindle, wildlife crimes are rising—and that's fueling a raft of heinous crimes committed against humans.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.