Blog: Active Transportation is the Road to Wellness


“The Way Forward” for Public Health

 The environmental movement has taught us that it’s a lot less harmful, difficult, and expensive to prevent toxins from entering the environment than to treat the problems poison creates once it is in our bodies and our world. Even our medical system, which is essentially about treating sickness after it occurs, is beginning to put more emphasis on “preventive medicine” – the early detection and management of disease.

But the opposite of disease is not early detection, its wellness – staying healthy. And one of the ways to do that, to be physically and emotionally well, is to be physically active. According to the national Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “adults need at least 2 and 1/2 hours (150 minutes) a week of aerobic physical activity. This should be at a moderate level, such as a fast-paced walk for no less than 10 minutes at a time.” The effort pays off in lower rates of obesity, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, several kinds of cancer, diabetes, coronary heart disease and stroke.

You can be active by spending hours running in place or going to a gym, but it’s more likely that you’ll get in the needed exercise if it is part of your daily routine – as part of your commute, running errands and seeing friends, and socializing on the weekends. Facilitating daily routine exercise is one of the many jobs of our transportation system – making it easy, inviting, and even inevitable for people of all ages and abilities to safely walk and bicycle, all while supported by a robust public transportation system.

Some interesting facts to consider:

• Men who commute to work on public transportation are 44.6% less likely to be overweight or obese due to the physical activity they get at the beginning and end of each trip, getting rid of the energy equivalent of a pound of body fat every six weeks.

• Women in the Harvard School of Public Health Nurses’ Health Study, those who walked 3 or more hours/week reduced their risk of a coronary event by 35% compared with women who did not walk. The risk of death from breast and uterine cancer were reduced 19% in those who walked 1 to 3 hours per week, by 54% for walking 3 to 5 hours / week.

• A study of over 3,200 overweight adults found that a good diet and walking 2.5 hours/week reduced their risk of developing diabetes by 58%. Participants aged 60 and older reduced their risk by 71%.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we each truly had a choice about how we moved around – if the state spent enough on transit, cycling, and walking facilities to make each of them safe and accessible for all? Unfortunately, our current transportation system does exactly the opposite: a CDC study found that almost 40 percent of Americans had not walked for 10 straight minutes in the previous seven days. Whether or not Massachusetts diverts from that national reality and, instead, creates a wellness-enhancing environment is significantly dependent on what happens with MassDOT’s proposed 10 year transportation plan, “The Way Forward”, along with an entourage of complimentary policies such as GreenDOT and Mode Shift – and all these are dependent on significant new revenue to meet our statewide transportation needs.

Of course, neither budgets nor plans and policies are enough to make things actually happen. Advocacy is a critical part of the fuel that turns the engine of change. And effective Advocacy requires us to both know what we’re talking about and then get involved. In addition to what you can learn on the Transportation for Massachusetts website, visit our members’ websites to learn more. . And when you’ve made up your mind, let your legislative representative know – the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission (MAPC) website lets you enter your zip code and the automatically provides a personalizable template addressed to the appropriate officials. Use it – several times! – democracy only happens when we use it.