January 17, 2016
The benefits of leading an active lifestyle are innumerable. From decreased rates of obesity and serious disease to increased rates of psychological health, regular exercise is one of the most important things you can do for your body. But finding time for the recommended 20 to 30 minutes daily is difficult for many people.
If setting aside a designated time to work out isn’t possible, repurposing time in your schedule can be a great way to sneak in exercise.
Enter: the active commute. Instead of driving to work, incorporating a physically active mode of transportation can help establish exercise as a core component in your daily routine.
Pierre Létourneau, a physical therapist at Southern Hills Hospital and Medical Center, rides his bicycle to work daily and shared his tips for how to have a safe and healthy active commute.
What is active commuting?
The term describes any physically active means of commuting, such as walking, biking or taking public transportation. While riding public transportation isn’t active in itself, the process of traveling to and from stops, and between transfer points, accounts for physical activity.
Health benefits of active commuting
Health benefits that can result from a consistent increase in physical activity include lower obesity rates, lower disease rates (such as for cancer, diabetes and heart disease), higher energy levels and longer life expectancy.
Beyond being a convenient way to get in a workout, there are other notable benefits of active commuting. The World Health Organization reports that the potential health benefits of walking, biking or taking public transportation to work include reduced respiratory and cardiovascular disease from air pollution, reduced risk of traffic injury and reduced noise stress.
Furthermore, a British study published in 2014 by Preventative Medicine found a correlation between active commuting and an increase in a person’s psychological well-being and overall happiness. Létourneau supports the claim. “My bike ride to work allows me to arrive awake, alert and ready to go. ... Biking home allows me to clear my head from work issues. It’s good for stress relief,” he said.
The study also reported that well-being increased with travel time for walkers but decreased for drivers, so even if an active commute takes longer, the health benefits continue to accumulate.
Active commuting in Las Vegas
Walking and biking are among the best, and often most practical, methods of active commuting. But because Las Vegas is so spread out, a quick walk to work may not be possible for many of us. While longer commutes may require more consideration, they can still be turned into an active practice.
“Walking is a healthy alternative for people who live close enough to their jobs,” Létourneau said. If you live less than 3 miles from your job, walking may be an option. Biking is an excellent mode of transportation for people who live a bit farther, say 3 miles to 12 miles from work, but still are able to take surface streets. For people who must make a cross-town trek, incorporating public transportation can make an active commute possible. The physically active time spent walking or riding to a bus stop, then walking or riding to your destination, will add up.
Tips for an active commute
Plan your route: Be sure you’ve chosen a route that has sidewalks and/or bike lanes and convenient crosswalks, and is well lit at night.
Time it: Do a couple of practice runs on a weekend to be sure you won’t be late come Monday morning, then give yourself an extra five minutes to 10 minutes, just to be safe.
Dress appropriately: Walking shoes, backpacks or messenger bags, and even a quick change of clothes for once you get to the office, may be necessary. Létourneau recommends light layers for colder months and long-sleeve shirts, sunblock and plenty of water during the summer.
Be seen easily: Whether you’re biking or walking, be sure to wear bright or light-colored clothing and reflectors at night or in inclement weather. Bicycles should have both front and rear lights.
Be patient: Létourneau stressed the importance of building your commute gradually and taking your time. “Don’t try to accomplish too much, too soon,” he said. “Set challenging but reasonable goals and be proud of yourself when you reach your goals.”
Have fun: “Start by doing something you enjoy or used to enjoy at a younger age,” Létourneau said. If walking or biking doesn’t sound appealing, why not dust off an old skateboard or scooter? It’s your time, and you should enjoy it.
What if active commuting isn’t for you?
There are plenty of other ways to incorporate physical activity into your daily routine and even into your workday. You can walk to your lunch destination, take a brisk lap around the block during a break or do light, muscle-strengthening exercises at your desk.