Health Dept: New Yorkers Get Their Exercise By Getting Around Town

New Yorkers get most of their physical activity simply from getting around, not from working out. Image: NYC DOH

The New York City Department of Health is out with a new bulletin [PDF] articulating the public health benefits of walking, biking, and taking transit. Encouraging those modes — and curbing the amount we drive — will reduce deaths and injuries from traffic crashes, prevent lung disease by lowering exposure to air pollution, and improve cardiovascular health by increasing exercise.

The evidence is pretty overwhelming — just 30 minutes of walking or biking each weekday reduces your risk of premature death by 20 percent — and the department’s recommendations are clear: New Yorkers should drive less, and the city should build the infrastructure to make walking, biking, and riding transit as safe and convenient as possible.

Most of the Health Department’s factoids have already been reported, like the life-saving improvements in air quality as a result of closing parts of Broadway to traffic. But one caught our eye as a new reminder of the importance of daily commute habits for your health.

While many think of going to the gym or for a jog as the key to staying in shape, a DOH survey found that New Yorkers get most of their physical activity as they go about their daily routine. The majority of New Yorkers who take transit to work, for example, get eleven minutes of physical activity each day from recreation. But they move for 57 minutes a day just to get around, whether it’s to walk to the bus or run some errands during lunch. New Yorkers who walk or bike to work get slightly more exercise than transit riders as part of their daily routine, while drivers get less than half as much. The city’s compact development and strong transit system are the key to incorporating activities that lower New Yorkers’ risk of diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease.

The Health Department report should also underscore how misguided it is to argue, as Assembly Member Dov Hikind has, against traffic calming on the grounds that it might some day slow speeding ambulances by a few seconds. The city’s top doctors are making the case for more traffic calming on city streets, not for the primacy of free-flowing traffic. This bulletin even singles out pedestrian refuge islands, the very safety feature that Hikind is suing to eliminate, for an endorsement.

  • Lyle Solla-Yates

     Increasingly it appears to me that the purpose of transportation infrastructure is not mobility itself, but rather a safe context for healthy exercise as part of your regular day. This absolutely supports that view.

  •  I can relate.  I recently moved from Phoenix, AZ to Vancouver, BC and have lost a few pounds already, even though my diet hasn’t been too great as I am getting settled and eating out a lot.  Walking is simply a part of my daily routine here; it is hard NOT to walk for at least 30 minutes a day in Vancouver.

  • Wayne Turner

     Yeah, but we still all miss you here in Phoenix 🙁

  • Nblumner

    I wonder how NYC stands up on this measure to other great transit cities such Paris and Berlin? I can literally see the benefit to the population of transit-services Boston every day.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Confirmed: New Yorkers Reap Health Benefits From Walking and Biking

|
Graphic: NYC Department of Health The NYC Department of Health announced the results of a citywide survey today [PDF] assessing the health benefits of regular walking and biking. Based on telephone interviews with more than 10,000 New Yorkers, the health department reveals that people who incorporate walking and biking into their daily routine are significantly […]

Public Health and Livable Streets: Making the Connection

|
Thirty years ago the health arguments against car-dependence were 90 percent about air pollution and 10 percent about physical inactivity. Now, with tailpipe pollution down and obesity and diabetes up, those percentages are reversed. The latest evidence is a valuable new report, Steps to Get New Yorkers Moving (PDF file), from the Public Health Association […]

Doctors’ Note Says Complete Streets Are Vital to New York’s Health

|
Transportation Alternatives and the New York Chapter of the American Association of Family Physicians today released a letter to Mayor Bloomberg, signed by 140 medical professionals from a broad spectrum of specialties, praising the city’s bike and pedestrian infrastructure as essential to the health of New Yorkers. It’s a solid counterweight to the hysteria surrounding […]

State DOT’s Spending Blueprint Overlooks Walking and Biking

|
Advocates for safer streets are alarmed by a New York State DOT “blueprint” for capital investments that scarcely acknowledges walking or biking as modes of transportation. The Tri-State Transportation Campaign noted in November that the NYS DOT document released with the file name “Two Year Capital Plan” [PDF] made virtually no mention of pedestrians or cyclists. “Although the document […]