Walking or biking for shorter trips can lead to better health

Photo (c) Daxiao Productions - Fotolia

The findings encourage consumers to get out of their cars every now and then

While it’s quick and convenient for consumers to hop in their cars and head to the store, a new study found that switching to more active forms of transportation -- such as walking or biking -- could be incredibly beneficial to consumers’ health. 

“Switching short trips to walking and cycling is a good way to incorporate physical activity into daily life and reduce carbon emissions associated with vehicle use,” said researcher Dr. Anja Mizdrak. 

Understanding the benefits

In a New Zealand-based study, the researchers estimated what would change if consumers across the country switched from taking their cars on trips under 5 km and trips under 1 km to walking, biking, or a mix of the two. 

“New Zealand is highly car dependent -- 79 percent of all self-reported trips are made by car and ownership rates are among the highest in the world -- and only half of New Zealand adults meet national physical activity recommendations,” said Dr. Mizdrak. 

The researchers used a statistical model to estimate the figures and utilized the QALY metric, short for quality adjusted life years, to determine how consumers would improve their health, reduce healthcare costs, and even benefit the environment if they ditched their cars on shorter trips. 

The researchers didn’t expect consumers to ditch their cars on every trip, so they made estimates for active transport on 25, 50, and 100 percent of shorter trips.  

After crunching the numbers, the researchers estimated that healthcare costs would drop between $127 million to $2.1 billion if consumers used more active forms of transportation. When it came to health outcomes, the team found that the number of healthy years added on to consumers’ lives would range from 1.61 to 25.43 per 1,000 people.

While the healthcare benefits were impressive alone, Dr. Mizdrak and her team also discovered that walking or cycling would help reduce “up to 1.4 percent of total [greenhouse gas] emissions from road transport in New Zealand.” 

The researchers considered these benefits to be significant, and they hope legislators take them into consideration when thinking about things like city planning; having spaces for residents to safely and easily walk or bike could make a big difference. 

“Our research suggests that making walking and cycling easier and preferred over cars for short trips is likely to be beneficial on all three counts of health gain, health system cost savings, and greenhouse gas emissions,” said researcher Tony Blakely. “This evidence needs consideration in future policy making and urban design.” 

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