Go Green

Active commuting

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by Jonathan Starling

A sustainable alternative?

Resolutions. And there’s nothing wrong with taking this opportunity to tweak our goals or how we’ve been approaching them.

I gave up making New Years Resolutions some years ago. I swapped them for New Years Challenges. Where I select a bunch of skills or activities or targets, I want to meet. So not ‘lose weight’ in a generic sense, but simply ‘increase my bench press/deadlift/squats by five pounds a week’, for example. For me this works to lose more weight than I ever did when setting a target of ‘lost five kilograms’ – and it achieves it because of the ‘form is a function of fitness’ and it gives me a clear, measurable and achievable target. And if I don’t achieve five pounds added each week, it’s fine – I usually achieve at least five pounds a week even when on a fitness plateau and it gets me to the gym regularly.

So, what’s this got to do with active commuting?

Well, often New Years Resolutions boil down to three general hopes:

  • Lose weight
  • Save money
  • Be happier

And active commuting is a way that we can achieve all three with one activity. Work smart, not harder.

First off, what is active commuting? Well, it’s commuting (going from home to work and back again) in an ‘active’ manner, in terms of physical activity as opposed to sitting in a vehicle. Examples of active commuting can be walking, jogging and cycling. Or even swimming and rowing!

It’s true that Bermuda’s roadways, built to accommodate horse and carriages, are not ideal for introducing bicycle lanes. However, the Railway Trail does provide an excellent corridor for active commuting for walkers, joggers and cyclists. What’s more, it also provides some amazing scenery. And with the fantastic work by the Friends of the Bermuda Railway the trail is even more connected than ever and provides almost an uninterrupted transport corridor the length of the island.

2017 research[1]found that active commuting correlates directly with lower risks of early death, with cycling coming on top with 40% reductions of early death from cardiovascular, cancer and all cause mortality. We know that physical activity reduces health issues related to obesity, type two diabetes and various cancers, so it makes sense that adding active commuting is going to equate to a healthier populace. And – from a New Year’s Resolution focus this covers the triad of losing weight, saving money (reduced health costs) and being happier (being healthy in general but also stress reduction). And beyond the benefits for the individual, it also leads to cost savings for the island’s healthcare costs, while increasing overall productivity. And some more info about being happier comes from 2015 research[2] that showed that cycling was the least stressful way to commute to work (compared to car or public transit).

Not every workplace of course has showers or places to store one’s cycles safely, however that doesn’t mean you have to rule out active cycling. It’s in employers’ best interests to have healthy and non-stressed employees, so speak with your workplace and see what arrangements can be made. And lobby the City of Hamilton and the Government to improve infrastructure to support this too.

And don’t worry about launching straight into active commuting five days a week. Ease into it. Remember what I said about aiming to just add five pounds to my lifts a week? That’s called ‘progressive overload’ and it works as well for active commuting as it does for weight lifting. Indeed, when I started hitting the weights the first few weeks was just me going to the gym and having a coffee and reading the paper – I did that for a full month before I even picked up a weight. It was about getting into the habit. And you can apply that to active commuting too.

Instead of walking to work from day one, consider simply walking to the bus stop first. And then to the next bus stop. And getting off at an earlier bus stop. So, you’re gradually increasing the amount of active commuting. You can do the same with parking your vehicle. Build up to it – small changes done consistently are key, and eventually you’ll be able to do your entire commute actively.

Worried about being late to work, or sweaty on arrival? That’s fine. Focus on an active commute home then instead. Just pack your stuff in a bag to carry home or leave what you can in the office.

Of course, this is going to be easier the closer you live to work – someone living in St David’s will have a harder time commuting to the office in the city than someone on Harbour Road (westerners have it easier by pairing active commuting with the ferry of course).

You can also add active commuting to other things. Going to visit a friend or get small purchases at the store? Why take the car when you can walk?

All of these provide health benefits, will save you money and make you happier. They also will save the island money, reduce overall air pollution (further healthcare cost savings), reduce congestion on the roads (making public transport more efficient; and produce cost savings from reduced wear and tear to the roads) and reduce our overall carbon footprint (less fossil fuel use, plus healthier lifestyles have a smaller carbon footprint in general).

So, how’s your New Year Resolutions coming along? It’s not too late to reboot them by incorporating active commuting into your daily life! Active commuting – it’s more sustainable, it’ll make you happier, it’ll save you money and it’ll make you healthier. It’s a winner.


[1]https://www.bmj.com/content/357/bmj.j1456Celis-Morales, et al (2017) Association between active commuting and incident cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mortality: prospective cohort study. British Medical Journal, 357:j1456

[1]https://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/IJWHM-10-2015-0059?journalCode=ijwhm&Brutus, et al (2015) Cycling, car or public transit: a study of stress and mood upon arrival at work. International Journal of Workplace Health Management. Vol 10, Issue 1

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