New Report Puts Spotlight on Cycling, Walking in U.S.

Dorian Martin Health Guide January 24, 2012
  • Lately, I’ve started mixing my hobby of geocaching with cycling, which gives me the opportunity to find 5-6 caches during a two-hour period (when my smart phone’s battery charge starts eroding too greatly due to regularly using the GPS). And I’ve also considered adding more biking to my weekly exercise efforts because it’s so much darn fun!


    It shouldn’t be a surprise that cycling offers great health benefits. Derek Markham described seven health benefits from biking on Discovery.com. The benefits from this low-impact exercise are:

    • Improved cardiovascular health and decreased risk of coronary heart disease.
    • Toned muscles, especially in the lower half of the body.
    • An increased metabolism and less weight gain.
    • An increased lifespan.
    • Better coordination.
    • Mental health.
    • A boosted immune system.

    The Bicycling and Walking in the U.S.: 2012 Benchmarking Report by the Alliance for Biking & Walking (ABW) noted that states that had the highest levels of citizens who bike or walk have the lowest levels of obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Furthermore, these states have a greater percentage of adults who participate in the recommended amount of daily physical exercise (30 minutes).


    However, the benefits of biking and walking may have been forgotten by the general public. The ABW pointed out that biking and walking levels decline by more than 65 percent from 1960-2009, while the percentage of obesity levels climbed to 156% during that time frame. Additionally, the percentage of children who walked or rode their bike to school fell by 75% from 1966-2009; during that same period, the percentage of obese children increased by 276%.


    These numbers are not surprising, especially since Americans still haven’t broken our attachment to cars. Americans used their cars for 87% of trips that were 1 to 2 miles in length in 2009 and for 62% of trips that were less than 1 mile. 


    However, people are increasingly embracing bicycling as a way to commute. The alliance found that the number of commuters who ride their bike to work has increased by 57% from 2000 to 2009. Interestingly, there is no basic difference in percentages when these commuters who cycle to work are analyzed by income, although there is a major difference for commuters who walk. The ABW found that walking to work is mainly done by lower income workers.


    Also, a gap exists between men and women who bicycle. Women make up 27% percent of bicycle commuters and 24% of all bicycle trips. Men, on the other hand, make up 73% of bicycle commuters and 54% of all bicycle trips. The sexes are more evenly split when walking, with men (who make up 49% of the population) make 49% of all walking trips.


    Many cities and states are embracing these alternate forms of transportation. The top cities for bicycling and walking to work in 2012 include Boston, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Portland (Oregon), Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Honolulu and New Orleans. The top states for cyclists and walkers who commute by foot or bike are Alaska, Vermont, New York, Montana, Oregon, Hawaii, Massachusetts, South Dakota, Wyoming and Maine.


  • And there are even economic reasons for people and governments to embrace biking and cycling. For instance, the ABW reports that there are real economic benefits through improving infrastructure for these groups. Projects that support walking and bicycling create 11-14 jobs per $1 million spent whereas highway projects created 7 jobs per $1 million spent. The Alliance noted that cost benefit analyses indicate that up to $11.80 in benefits can be gained for every $1 invested in bicycling and walking.


    Bicycling and walking provide a healthy (albeit slower) form of transportation. As weather permits, perhaps you should put on your walking shoes or your cycling helmet and try a new way of getting around. You might come to really enjoy it!