Walking, biking instead of driving offers significant health benefits

Yong Kyu Lee, sophomore in interior design, pumps air into his tires and tunes his bike at the bicycle repair station outside the K-State Student Union on Friday afternoon.

Every time I complained about walking to school when I was younger, my parents would reiterate the age-old lament, “When I was your age, I walked five miles to school, in the snow, uphill both ways, with cardboard strapped to my feet for shoes.” I’m sure that many students have heard a variation of the same story.

I’m here to tell you that they were right. Not about the over-exaggerated fable of their youth, but that walking to school isn’t that bad. In fact, it’s quite good for you.

I’m going to suggest that you not only walk to school, but also to your friend’s house, to the gas station, to Aggieville and to run errands in general. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s 2010 National Bicycle and Walking Study, 72 percent of trips that are less than three miles in length are made by vehicle. Ironically enough, most Americans drive when “running” errands.

A study by Gregg L. Furie published last December in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, stated that only about 25 percent of Americans participate in active transportation. Active transportation is defined as human-powered transportation such as walking or biking.

These are the top three health benefits of choosing active transportation.

1. Maintaining your weight

The December 2012 study found that individuals who used any amount of active transportation weekly had lower body mass indexes and abdominal waist circumference than those who did not use any human-powered means of transportation.

Additionally, Canadian women between the ages of 50 and 70 years old showed lower body fat and lower overall weight when they walked at least 10,000 steps per day, or about five miles, according to a December 2011 Reuters Health article by Kerry Grens.

2. Lowering odds of hypertension

According to the Mayo Clinic, hypertension affects nearly everyone eventually. Also known as high blood pressure, hypertension can affect someone for years without displaying any symptoms.

According to the December 2012 study, the odds of having hypertension were 24 percent lower in individuals with low active transportation, or less than 150 minutes of human-powered transportation weekly. Hypertension was 31 percent lower among individuals with high active transportation, defined as more than 150 minutes weekly.

Hypertension can lead to other serious complications. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, high blood pressure can lead to coronary heart disease, stroke, kidney failure and other health problems. Approximately one in three adults in the U.S. suffer from high blood pressure.

3. Improving mood

That’s right, walking can actually improve your mood. Michael C. Miller, member of the department of psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, likens the mood-boosting effects of daily exercise to taking anti-depressants, according to a May 2012 article by Michael Lasalandra. Miller said that images of the brain taken before and after exercise shows improvement in areas of the brain responsible for regulating mood.

According to the article, research shows that the mood benefits of regular, modest exercise can be attributed to the fact that “regular exercise increases blood and energy flow to the brain, improving mental acuity.”

While many of these benefits are also the result of physical activity in general, walking is an easy aerobic activity to include in your daily routine. Sometimes finding motivation or time to work out at the gym may be difficult, but by choosing to walk to class rather than drive, students can make significant progress toward the moderate physical activity recommendation of 150 minutes per week.

Walking is a low-impact form of exercise that is accessible to just about everybody. Plus, not having to find a parking space on campus or pay for gas and parking fees can help save time and money.

Kelsey McClelland is a senior in journalism and mass communications. Please send comments to edge@kstatecollegian.com.