Opting for more sustainable means of transportation like walking and biking yields obvious benefits for environmental health, but it also benefits your personal health as well.
In addition to the physical activity and green aspects, getting regular exercise and time in the sun both help you snooze better at night. And, sleeping well can in turn benefit your body and mind in numerous ways.
Walking and biking aren’t as idealistic as they may seem either. The U.S. Census estimates that the average American lives within a 26-minute commute to their place of work. Many of us are lucky enough to live in cities where it’s easy to commute via foot or bike for at least part of the year, or could feasibly walk or bike for short errands.
Read on to learn about the advantages of walking and biking and tips for integrating it into your daily routine.
Benefits of Walking and Biking More
First, some stats on the environmental benefits of you-powered transportation:
- During a year of average weekday commutes, the average mid-size car takes in 124 gallons of gas and emits 1.3 tons of CO2 gas. It’s estimated that about one pound of various pollutants are emitted for each mile of car travel.
- If your round trip commute averages 10 miles and you bike or walk just one day each week, you cut back 520 pounds of pollutants and use 26 fewer gallons of gas over the year.
- One study suggests that replacing half of short trips with bike rides over the six warmest months could save 1,100 lives and $7 billion each year due to increased physical fitness and improved air quality.
Many Americans are starting to notice the advantages, too. It’s estimated that the number of people choosing to bike to work rather than drive has increased about 40% over the past 10 years nationwide. Among the 50 largest cities, about 5% of workers walk and 1% bike, with numbers higher in certain pedestrian-friendly metros like New York City, Boston, D.C., and Portland.
But, if these stats don’t seem compelling enough, consider what walking and biking more can do for you.
Walking and biking are both great cardio exercises, good for maintaining overall fitness and healthy body weight. It makes sense that more activity means better health, and a large scale study published in the British Medical Journal found that biking, walking and even taking public transport were predictive of healthier Body Mass Index (BMI) and healthier body composition compared to driving.
Research shows that getting regular cardio exercise supports better sleep quality as well. For example, one study of older sedentary adults found that consistent cardio exercise (30 minutes, four times per week) over four months correlated with better sleep, equivalent to what is achieved from pharmaceutical sleep aids. Another study found that low and moderate-intensity exercise significantly helped reduce daytime fatigue, meaning more energy during the day, too.
Walking and biking during the daytime also offer significant sunlight-related benefits: vitamin D and circadian rhythm regulation. Many of us who work in offices see little sunlight, which can impact sleep timing and vitamin D uptake. It doesn’t take a ton of time, either. Depending on skin tone and clothing, 10 to 30 minutes is more than enough. If you can’t walk or bike to work, try walking for your lunch or coffee break, preferably in morning or early afternoon.
Other research has shown that person-powered commuting positively influences mood. British researchers found that people who changed to biking or walking to work from driving reported reduced stress and better concentration, with less stress being more conducive to better rest. Public transit also showed improvements over driving.
Another benefit? Your fatter pocketbook. Kiplinger hosts a bike savings calculator, which estimates that a person biking to work (10 miles) could save about $5.00 per day on top of any parking or toll costs. There is a even a federal incentive worth about $20 per month for frequent bike commuters, and certain metros and employers also offer financial incentives for eco-friendly commuters.
Working Greener Transit Into Your Routine
The more driving we do, the more fossil fuels we burn and pollution we generate, meaning swapping car keys for good shoes even once a week results in real benefits. A growing number of cities are also striving to make their spaces pedestrian and cyclist friendly in order to reduce traffic and pollution burden.
All you really need is a comfortable pair of shoes if you want to walk, and a decent bike and helmet if you prefer to cycle. A few weeks of use and they will likely have paid for themselves in savings from driving.
If you live in a larger metro, you may even be able to access bike-sharing programs (NYC, DC, Miami, Boston and Denver are among cities with programs). These low-cost options can make it easier than ever to get started, especially if you’re not ready to commit to buying a bike yet.
Try planning a couple of routes in advance and testing them on the weekends to see which ones are most practical, and to get a good idea of the time you’ll need. Other practical ways to prepare include tossing a poncho or umbrella in your bag, putting on sunscreen or wearing a hat, and carrying a bottle of water. Another tip: many commuters wear flats or sneakers to and from the office, and carry dress shoes in their bags to slip on for work.
For biking, look for routes with dedicated bike lanes, and be sure to wear a helmet! Smart cycling involves riding defensively, so know your municipal laws and be aware of the traffic situation on your route. Same goes for pedestrian crosswalks.
Even if self-powered commuting doesn’t make sense for your situation, using greener transportation to replace short trips or just for the exercise offers real benefits.
From looking better and feeling better to even sleeping better and saving money, the benefits of walking and biking make a strong case for leaving the car at home more often.
How often do you walk or ride to work or to replace short trips? What would encourage you to do it more? Share your comments and tips.
Feature image courtesy of Dave Sutherland