CRTP: Active Transportation and Health

Colin Fiske, Executive Director

The term “active transportation” most often refers to walking and biking. In recent years, though, many advocates and researchers have expanded the definition to include the use of all sorts of mobility devices, from wheelchairs to unicycles. Public transit can also be considered a form of active transportation, since the trip to and from the bus stop almost always involves a fair amount of moving on one’s own power.

Much of CRTP’s work focuses on the environmental and safety benefits of active transportation. But there’s another major benefit that deserves more attention. Since active transportation is powered by your body, it is by definition a form of exercise. And exercise, of course, is really good for your health. 

The World Health Organization recommends that children and adolescents get an average of 60 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous exercise, and that adults get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise. A large body of evidence demonstrates that meeting these guidelines significantly improves both physical and mental health. But 25 percent of adults and over 80 percent of adolescents worldwide do not meet the guidelines, and the consequences for public health are serious.1 

Active transportation is one of the best and most reliable ways to increase physical activity and meet public health guidelines, because it makes exercise part of your daily routine. You don’t need to go to the gym if you’ve already exercised on your way to work—or to the bus stop or school or the store. And you don’t need to gear up in spandex and pedal at top speed down the bikeway, either; moving at a reasonable pace will usually get you the kind of “moderate-intensity” exercise that yields big dividends for health. Indeed, the evidence confirms that increasing active transportation has huge health benefits, largely as a result of increased physical activity.2 

There’s no single cure-all for what ails us, individually and as a society—but active transportation comes pretty darn close. Getting around on our own power makes us happier and healthier, reduces social isolation, decreases pollution, improves safety, and more. And it’s cheap or even free to do. Let’s build better places to walk, bike and roll, and get moving out there on the street!

1World Health Organization. 2020. Physical activity fact sheet.

2Mueller et al. 2015. Health impact assessment of active transportation: A systematic review. Preventive Medicine 76: 103-114.