Health and Transportation
The way we choose to get around town, or transport ourselves in general, affects our health. This has drawn the attention of public health professionals across the United States over more than the past decade. See http://www.cdc.gov/transportation/
One obvious way transportation affects us is in how we much our bodies are moving when we are on the move – in other words our level of physical activity. Getting more physical activity is recommended for numerous health benefits:
- prevention of cancers, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and more
- lower risk of early death
- prevention of falls and weight gain
- reduced depression
The recommendation for adults is to get 30 minutes per day, at least 10 minutes at a time, on most days of the week. This is moderate activity, the kind you can get from walking or riding a bicycle at an easy pace. If you are getting vigorous physical activity when you move around, as when you are hauling a load in a bicycle trailer, pushing a stroller in some of our hilly neighborhoods, or running/bicycling at a faster pace, you need less time in the activity.
Getting physical activity is especially increased by walking, bicycling and transit use for transportation. Using a bus for transportation is more active than being in a car because there is typically more walking involved in getting to and from bus stops at the start or end of the trip.
Having a full range of transportation choices gives people across a wider age spectrum in our community the opportunity to access activities, jobs, goods and services, and social interaction. In other words, it allows those most vulnerable people (children, elderly and those with disabilities) to participate more fully in community life.
In addition, Healthy People 2020 (the national action plan for improving the health of all Americans) identifies alternative transportation to work objectives – increasing the amount of bicycling, walking and transit use – as a way to improve outdoor air quality. If these other forms of transportation are increasing, less motorized travel will be needed and thus there will be fewer pollutant emissions. This results in even further community health benefits because reduced air pollution is associated with improved respiratory health and prevention of cancers, heart disease and stroke.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognizes the importance of active transportation and the need to create environments that make these healthier choices easier for people. See www.cdc.gov/healthyplaces. Traffic safety, injury prevention and mental health are other ways well-designed places help people stay healthy.