Skip to main content

Cardiff UniversityExercisePhysical HealthResearchSustrans Live Well Work Well

Being active is hugely beneficial for your mental and physical wellbeing!

17 October 2014

You’ll already have seen our post about the Sustrans Live Well University Travel Challenge which is now active until 7th November. The challenge encourages you to travel sustainably to University, by bike, foot, public transport or car-sharing, and log your journeys on the Travel Challenge website.

However, Sustrans goes further, wishing to promote the health benefits of changing your mode of travel. 

Although some of us may be able to travel sustainably, we may not be able to travel actively – I myself would struggle, living 33 miles away from the University! But I want to highlight the importance of being active for your wellbeing. There is incontrovertible evidence that exercise improves your sense of wellbeing. Below are just some of the reasons exercise is good for you, and you can read further for some really interesting facts and figures about exactly how you can benefit from exercise, for example ‘there is an approximately 30% reduction in risk for all-cause mortality, across all studies, when comparing the most active with the least active’.

Read here for more evidence supporting these ideas.

 Health benefits of changing your travel

Getting out into the fresh air walking or on your bike burns calories, gets your heart pumping and even works the abs. It can also lift your mood, put a smile on your face and improve your general health and wellbeing – can a car journey do all that?

Being inactive is a serious threat to our collective health – Sustrans’ research shows that lack of physical activity could cause over 36,000 premature deaths in England each year.

It’s recommended that adults take part in 2.5 hours of moderate activity per week. But physical activity levels are low in the UK: only 40% of men and 28% of women meet these minimum recommendations. Meanwhile, car use is soaring and our roads are getting busier.

One way to achieve this target is to do 30 minutes’ exercise at least five days a week – the perfect length of time for short, local journeys on foot or by bike. Swapping some of those car journeys to travel by bike or foot improves fitness – research shows that regular adult cyclists have fitness levels of someone 10 years younger.

Keep active, keep a healthy weight

A healthy weight could be different for two people of the same sex, age and height because we all have different bone structures and muscle development. What’s important is that you feel healthy, self-confident and keep your body fat at the right level – not what the scales say. The best way to maintain a healthy weight is to be active – here are a few incentives to get you going:

  • cycling raises your metabolic rate, which can help to keep weight off;
  • moderate pedal-pushing burns up to 500 calories per hour, which is more than walking or swimming;
  • a 20-minute bike ride to work could use the same amount of calories as a cappuccino, a bar of chocolate or a 175ml glass of wine.

Exercise and serious illness

Physical activity isn’t a guarantee against all disease, but it has been shown to greatly reduce the chances of several serious illnesses. These include:

  • Heart disease: this is the number one cause of death in the UK. According to the Chief Medical Officer, inactive and unfit people have almost double the risk of dying from heart disease compared to more active and fit people;
  • Asthma: asthma has significantly increased amongst young people and adults in recent decades and traffic pollution has been shown to have a strong link to this;
  • Diabetes: according to Diabetes UK, physically active people have a 33-50% lower risk of developing type II diabetes compared with inactive people;
  • Cancer: by being physically active, you can reduce the risk of breast, bowel and womb cancer. Cancer Research UK says that keeping active could help to prevent more than 3,000 cases of cancer in the UK every year.

Be active for your general wellbeing

Many other areas of your health and wellbeing will benefit from increasing your activity, too. For example:

  • Bad backs: The British Chiropractic Association specifically identified shorter car journeys as placing the back under immense strain;
  • Mental Health: studies have shown that physical activity can be used to overcome, and even prevent, depression and anxiety. According to the Mental Health Foundation, activity can be as effective as medication and counselling.