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Confirmed: New Yorkers Reap Health Benefits From Walking and Biking

4:30 PM EST on December 3, 2009

walk_bike.jpgGraphic: 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 more likely to report good physical and mental health than those who don't. The report concludes with recommendations to encourage walking and biking, including steps like building safer infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists.

There's a lot of interesting numbers to comb through, including some geographic data with big implications for New York City neighborhoods. First off, here are some of the major takeaways:

    • Sixteen percent of New Yorkers incorporate walking, biking, running, or skating into their daily commute.*
    • Eighty-three percent of adult New Yorkers who regularly walk or bike for transportation report excellent, very good or good health, compared to 70 percent of those who do not.
    • The correlation between better healthand frequent walking and biking is significant, regardless of income level.
    • Only 10 percent of New Yorkers who regularly walk or bike report frequent mental distress, compared to 14 percent of those who do not regularly walk or bike.
    • Men are significantly more likely to bike to work in New York City than women.

So in nerve-fraying NYC, getting around using your own muscle power can help alleviate mental stress. And walking and biking improves your chances of living in good health, no matter how much money you make. Chalk up more data to support Elana Schor's coinage from earlier this year: "Transportation reform is health reform."

But the cycling gender divide is real, and it's not the only significant discrepancy revealed by this report. Geographically, there are major variations in the percentage of New Yorkers who walk and bike regularly. Follow the jump to see the DOH map.


Lots of those light yellow areas really leap out. Sunset Park, north-central Brooklyn, East Harlem, the South Bronx -- they are, by and large, compact neighborhoods that are less affluent than areas of the city with higher rates of walking and biking. They are also the areas of the city, by and large, that experience the highest rates of obesity and diabetes, especially among young people.

The DOH report recommends a number of steps to help New Yorkers reap the health benefits of active transportation, including the construction of better infrastructure for walking and biking. This map makes a compelling argument for where to target that investment.

*You may be wondering why this figure is so low, since most New Yorkers commute via transit and must be walking a lot in the process. The methodology, according to DOH, involved asking survey participants how they get to work. Respondents could choose multiple options. Someone could say, for instance, "I walk and I take the train." Everyone who included walking, biking, running, or skating in their response counted toward the 16 percent "active commute" figure.

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