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Sedentary in America: Yale Study Finds Further Connection Between Inactivity, Chronic Health Problems

January 03, 2013
by Michael Greenwood

The acts of bicycling to the office and walking to the store appear to deliver significant health benefits to adults, including reduced risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease.

A new study co-authored by a Yale School of Public Health researcher found evidence that people who engage in even modest levels of “active transportation” (classified as engaging in at least 10 minutes of continuous bicycling or walking in a typical week to get to a destination) enjoy a range a health advantages over their more sedentary peers.

Active transportation is “an untapped reservoir” of opportunity for physical activity for many U.S. adults, said the authors, Gregg L. Furie, a graduate of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program at Yale, and Mayur M. Desai, associate professor in the Department of Chronic Disease Epidemiology at the School of Public Health. The study appears in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Studies demonstrating a link between levels of physical activity and health outcomes have tended to focus on the effects of leisure-time physical activity. This study provides evidence that a regular regimen of walking or bicycling for transportation may also slow, or prevent, the onset of several chronic diseases, which could lead to reduced health care costs, said Desai. The findings also suggest that architects and zoning officials should consider and encourage active transportation when developing new residential and commercial areas.

The study group consisted of nearly 10,000 U.S. adults who were 20 years of age or older. Each participant’s body mass index and waist circumference were recorded, along with his or her blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes status.

The authors found that, even after accounting for time spent in combined leisure-time and occupational physical activity, active transportation was significantly associated with a more favorable cardiovascular risk profile. In particular, adults who engaged in active transportation had, on average, a lower body mass index and a smaller waist circumference. Compared with no active transportation, individuals who engaged in a high level of active transportation (defined as ≥150 minutes per week) were approximately 30 percent less likely to have high blood pressure and a similar reduction was seen for diabetes.

The study also found that the vast majority of adults—76 percent—engaged in no type of active transportation. While walking and cycling are the most common forms of this activity, it can also include using a wheelchair, inline skating, or skateboarding.

According to the authors, active transportation may provide an alternative opportunity for physical activity. By transforming routine daily living into an opportunity for physical activity, active transportation overcomes many of the traditional barriers to engaging in leisure-time or occupational physical activity. “The findings suggest that more work is needed to develop environmental policies that make it safer, easier, and more desirable for people to walk and bike for transportation,” Furie and Desai said.

Submitted by Denise Meyer on January 04, 2013