I went home for the first time this past weekend only to come back to campus and find that my front bicycle tire was flat. This wasn’t too big of a deal, because I didn’t have a bike for the first several weeks of school and I knew how the walking deal went: give yourself 15 minutes to get anywhere on campus. I proceeded to walk to class for the day, along with the following two days. This post was inspired by the pain I am now enduring in my shins. Who knew that a month of not walking to class consistently (and riding a bike instead) could get my legs so out of shape?! I know that each of these gross motor skills requires very different use of muscles, but I was still so surprised to find my legs to be so sore!
As I was walking downtown this afternoon to get my front tire fixed, I began thinking about which of the two options– biking or walking– was ultimately better for my overall wellness. All of us see hundreds of pedestrians every day when walking from one place on campus to another, but we also see many more bikers on this campus than on most. (As a side note, I’m going to continue to ride my bicycle as it allows for a much quicker transition time between classes. But for the sake of this blog post, I want to compare the two).
First I wanted to learn about cycling. Are there any health benefits or dangers that make it a better or worse option than simply walking? Rather than researching a single study, I chose to look for information on this topic in a meta-analysis–as cycling is a very prominent topic of study and is extremely relevant to the general public. The meta-analysis that I found included results of many different types of studies, including cross-sectional, case-control studies, and intervention studies. This included 16 studies total, with only two finding that cycling was potentially harmful to human health. The cross sectional and longitudinal studies all found that a consistent positive relationship between cycling and cardio-respiratory fitness in youth. All but two of the case-control studies discovered a consistent inverse relationship between commuter cycling and cancer mortality among middle aged adults to elderly adults. The intervention studies also revealed positive results in their discovery of clear cardiovascular improvements. Aside from the fact that this meta-analysis wanted only to look at health factors and not confounding variables such as the use of helmets, it discovered that overall–biking can absolutely maintain and improve human health conditions, especially the cardio-respiratory and cardiovascular systems.
Next I wanted to look into long distance walking and the benefits or potential dangers that came along with. My typical route to and from classes, in addition to any other movement I do in a day (i.e. going to the gym, getting dinner at the dining commons, etc.) adds up to be about 3.5 miles on average. I figured this out, back in my days of walking when my phone would alert me that I had reached a daily goal that I had somehow set up.
Good news for those of you that do have longer routes throughout your week: walking is one of the most underutilized yet best forms of physical activity. It is considered moderate-intensity physical activity which is recommended universally, and regardless of age. The most interesting thing that I found about walking, however, is that it has been found to increase in significance to health as the population ages. Consistently walking has been shown to decrease obesity, chronic disease in older individuals, and reduce the risk of injury in people.
To conclude, both cycling and walking have tremendous health benefits. While both are prominent ways to get around as a college student, what makes one better than another is that walking is universal. By this I mean that it requires absolutely no equipment, training, etc. Biking requires certain conditions that cannot be found everywhere.
So bike or walk? It really ends up being personal preference. The important piece to take away from this though, is that consistent physical activity like cycling or walking each and every day is going to help keep you healthy. And staying healthy is what is really important in the long run.
Lee, I., & Buchner, D. M. (2008, July). The Importance of Walking to Public Health. Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise, 40(7), S512-S518. Retrieved October 19, 2016, from Ovid.
Oja, P., Titze, S., & Bauman, A. (2011, August). Health Benefits of Cycling: A Systematic Review. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 21(4), 496-509. Retrieved October 19, 2016, from Wiley Online Library.