Analysing the research, The Health Behavior News Service notes, “It may be more realistic to accumulate physical activity through active transport than adding exercise to weekly leisure-time routines.”
The four-year study of 822 adults found that found that people commuting to work by car gained more weight on average, even if they engaged in regular exercise, than people who did not commute by car. The authors of the study recommend creating more opportunities for everyone to walk or bike to work.
An earlier study by researchers at the University of Sydney School of Public Health published in Obesity Reviews (the journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity) supports the thesis that leisure-time exercise alone is not enough to prevent obesity. Sixty to 90 minutes of daily physical activity is recommended to curb obesity, which is more time than most people can fit into their busy schedules. That’s why the study’s authors recommend “active transport” like biking and walking for commuting other common trips.
2007 paper in the European Journal of Epidemiology concludes “Commuting physical activity, independent of leisure time physical activity, was associated with a healthier level of most of the cardiovascular risk factors.”
The key advantage of travelling by bike over working out at a fitness centre is that most people find it easier to do. Instead of vying for scarce free time with many other fun and important things, exercise becomes something we do naturally as part of daily routine. As a study by Portland State University professor Jennifer Dill in the Journal of Public Health Policy shows, 60 percent of Portland cyclists ride for at least 150 minutes per week (the recommended exercise minimum for adults) and that “nearly all the bicycling was for utilitarian purposes, not exercise.”
She adds “a disproportionate share of the bicycling occurred on streets with bicycle lanes, separate paths, or bicycle boulevards”—confirming the importance of bike infrastructure improvements to public health.