The Physical Benefits of Biking and Walking Paths
Study shows people living near trails get more exercise, leading to better health.
People who live near safe, high-quality biking and walking infrastructure tend to get more exercise than people who don’t, according to a study published last week in the American Journal of Public Health.
Researchers surveyed randomly selected adults before and after new bike/ped infrastructure was built in three communities in the U.K. Two of the selected communities opened bike and pedestrian bridges with well-connected “feeder” infrastructure. The other community upgraded “an informal riverside footpath” into a boardwalk during the study period.
Over two years, about 1,500 people responded to annual surveys about their walking and biking habits as well as other exercise behavior. During the first year of the survey — before the bike/ped improvements had been completed — there was no difference in biking and walking levels between people living close to the project areas and people living farther away. But by the final survey year, after the new infrastructure had been built, a disparity began to emerge.
Researchers found that people living within 0.6 miles of a protected bikeway got about 45 minutes more exercise biking and walking per week than people living 2.5 miles away. For every kilometer (0.6 miles) closer respondents lived to the infrastructure improvement, they exercised roughly 15 minutes more per week. People without access to a car were most likely to exercise more in response to the infrastructure improvements.
Importantly, researchers found there was no corresponding decrease in other types of physical activity — meaning access to biking and walking infrastructure helped increase overall physical activity levels for nearby residents.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Anne Goodman of the University of Cambridge, said that this type of infrastructure could be a key to the fight against obesity and diabetes.
“These findings support the case for changing the environment to promote physical activity by making walking and cycling safer, more convenient and more attractive,” she said in a statement.
Could More Trails Benefit Wisconsin?
The short answer is yes.
In fact a 2011 review of more than 200 studies by the American Heart Association found: “Every $1 spent on building biking trails and walking paths could save approximately $3 in medical expenses.”
With 29.7 percent of adult Wisconsin residents considered obese, Wisconsin is unfortunately the 15th most obese state in the nation. And this is costing us billions.
The 2012 Trust for America’s Health and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s report “Bending the Obesity Cost Curve in Wisconsin” found that if the body mass index (a calculation based on an individual’s weight and height) of the average Wisconsinite could be reduced just 5 percent, this could save $11 billion over a 20 year period. This saving would be generated by preventing cases of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke, hypertension, and cancer and arthritis.
Not to mention that biking and walking are fun. – Dave Reid
Story by Angie Schmitt with additional contributions from Dave Reid of Urban Milwaukee. A version of this story originally ran on Streetsblog. Angie Schmitt is a newspaper reporter-turned planner/advocate who manages the Streetsblog Network from glamorous Cleveland, Ohio. She also writes about urban issues particular to the industrial Midwest at Rustwire.com.