The Path to Work is a Social Thing

Biking or walking to work is influenced by number of social factors

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) Group support can make or break healthy behaviors, even in commuting to work. Support for walking and biking to the job comes in a number of different forms.

Individuals who are surrounded by co-workers and communities that support biking or walking to work are more likely to do so, a recently published study found.

Promoting active transport to work could impact public health by preventing chronic diseases and related illness among adults, according to researchers.

"Consider exercising your way to work."

Melissa Bopp, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at Pennsylvania State University, and colleagues investigated how people's decisions to bike or walk to work was affected by their co-workers, partners and surroundings.

The researchers emailed surveys regarding active commuting behavior to more than 5,000 individuals found though company websites or employers who were asked to participate. Most of the companies were located in mid-Atlantic states.

Surveys were distributed between June and December 2011. Participants were employed full- or part-time and about 44 years old on average. More than two-thirds were women.

Respondents who were unable to walk or ride a bike or were not employed outside their home were excluded. In total, 1,234 participants were included in the analysis.

The survey asked how many times per week individuals walked, biked, drove or took public transit to and from work.

The researchers found significant ties between active commuting and individual, interpersonal, institutional, community and environmental influences.

Men were six times more likely to walk, bike, or take public transit to work than women on the individual level.

Individuals who felt walking and biking took less time than driving to work were also six times more likely to actively commute to work than those who felt the active methods took more time.

Along the interpersonal level, married individuals were almost three times more likely to be active commuters than non-married individuals.

At the institutional level, individuals who worked at small companies with up to 24 employees and at large companies with 1,000 or more employees were the most active commuters.

"The findings of this study provide a foundation for large-scale strategies to target population-level active commuting patterns, recognizing that a multilevel approach may best address the range of complex influences on behavior," the researchers wrote in their report.

With increasing age, children, chronic diseases and body mass index (BMI), which is a measure of height and weight, individuals were less likely to commute to work by walking or biking.

Bad weather, difficult terrain and speed and volume of traffic next to the commuting route also negatively impacted people's decisions to walk and bike to work.

In addition, lack of on-street bike lanes, sidewalks and off-street bike and walking paths also made people less inclined to be active commuters.

The authors noted they had a low number of participants and those that did engage in the study might not be representative of the larger, general population.

The authors also used measure techniques that were not tested previously, which might have affected results. How participants perceived their work place, environment and community might also not be consistent with more objective measures.

The study, supported by the Centre Region Bicycle Coalition, Bike Pittsburgh and the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, will be published in the July 2013 issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 2, 2013
Last Updated:
August 12, 2013