Active Commuting On The Rise In Some Cities
May 29, 2013

Study Ties Active Commuting To Social Influences

Brett Smith for — Your Universe Online

According to a new report in the American Journal of Health Behavior, having a spouse or coworker who rides a bicycle into work makes it more likely that you will do the same.

"Social influences are important, specifically interpersonal influences, such as spouses and co-workers," said study co-author Melissa Bopp, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Penn State.

Bopp and two colleagues began their study by looking into how interpersonal relationships relate to “active commuting,” or physical exercise as a means of traveling to and from a job. The three researchers sent out over 9,700 surveys to Americans living in eastern coastal states and received just over 1,200 completed responses. The employed respondents were between the ages of 18 and 75 and physically able to actively commute to work.

The surveys asked how people traveled to work and if their spouse and coworkers affected their decision on how they commuted. Participants were also asked if their employer supported actively commuting, how bicycle-friendly their community was, and to rate their own cycling ability.

The researchers found that married people were more likely to actively commute than non-married people, men actively commuted more frequently than women, and mothers were less likely to actively commute than women without children.

While having a spouse or co-workers who actively commuted had a positive influence on respondents to do the same, spouse or co-worker approval had a slightly lower positive influence. Other factors that increased the likelihood of active commuting included confidence with bicycling skills and perceived commute time to work. Less significant positive influences included a supportive employer or community with respect to active commuting.

Age, BMI, number of children, number of chronic diseases and number of cars in the household all contributed negatively to the decision to actively commute. The researchers also found that lack of bike and walking paths negatively influenced the decision to actively commute.

Bopp and colleagues said they believe the study´s findings could be used to implement large-scale strategies concerning active commuter patterns.

Active commuting could be a healthy option for over 80 percent of American adults who do not meet federal objectives for aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities, according to Healthy People 2020, a government initiative that monitors the health of the population. The US Department of Health and Human Services suggests at least two hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, or one hour and 15 minutes of high-intensity activity a week for adults.

Major cities, with their relatively smaller distances between work and home, have seen a significant increase in people bicycling to work over the past decade. According to the US Census Bureau, New York City has seen a 78 percent increase in active commuters between 1990 and 2005. From 1990 to 2000, San Francisco saw an increase of 110 percent in bike commuters.

While the increasing trend toward bike commuting has been applauded by environmentalists and city advocates across the country, increasing the number of bike lanes hasn´t been fully embraced. Some New York City residents have fought against the implementation of more bike lanes in the belief that they cause more dangerous accidents and take away valuable street space.