Active travel is associated with greater physical activity, but there is a dearth of research examining this relationship over time. We examined the longitudinal associations between change in time spent in active commuting and changes in recreational and total physical activity.
Adult commuters working in Cambridge, United Kingdom completed questionnaires in 2009 and 2012, and a sub-set completed objective physical activity monitoring in 2010 and 2012. Commuting was assessed using a validated seven-day travel to work record. Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity was assessed using the Recent Physical Activity Questionnaire and combined heart rate and movement sensing. We used multivariable multinomial logistic regression models to examine associations between change in time spent in active commuting and tertiles of changes in time spent in recreational and total physical activity.
Four hundred sixty-nine participants (67 % female, mean age 44 years) provided valid travel and self-reported physical activity data. Seventy-one participants (54 % female, mean age 45 years) provided valid travel and objectively measured physical activity data. A decrease in active commuting was associated with a greater likelihood of a decrease in self-reported total physical activity (relative risk ratio [RRR] 2.1, 95 % CI 1.1, 4.1). Correspondingly, an increase in active commuting was associated with a borderline significantly greater likelihood of an increase in self-reported total physical activity (RRR 1.8, 95 % CI 1.0, 3.4). No associations were seen between change in time spent in active commuting and change in time spent in either self-reported recreational physical activity or objectively measured physical activity.
Changes in active commuting were associated with commensurate changes in total self-reported physical activity and we found no compensatory changes in self-reported recreational physical activity. Promoting active commuting has potential as a public health strategy to increase physical activity. Future longitudinal research would be useful to verify these findings.