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Active commuting might not be that hard

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More than two in three Australians drive to work, according to the latest 2016 Census data. An active commute, where physical activity forms a significant part of the way people travel to and from work, is far easier than often thought – and it could even be a lifesaver. 

One of the main hurdles for the uptake of active commuting could be based in an overestimation of the length of time people believe it would take to walk or ride to work, a recent study suggests.

Associate Professor Melissa Bopp, one of the study’s co-authors from Pennsylvania State University, said: “Often people indicate that the reason they choose to drive is that it’s much quicker than walking or biking when, in reality, that may not be the case.”

When the study’s participants were asked to estimate how long it would take them to bike or walk to a common location in town, they found that the majority of people estimated incorrectly. Ninety-one per cent of study participants incorrectly estimated how long it would take to commute with walking, and 93 per cent mis-estimated how long it would take to bike.

In Australia, rates of walking and cycling remain constant and low – even in smaller centres such as Hobart, Darwin and Canberra. Even in the most ‘cycling-oriented’ places (Darwin and Canberra), only about three per cent of commuters cycle.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) launched in June this year its first Global Action Plan for Physical Activity 2018-2030, to encourage an increased participation in physical activity by people of all ages and abilities across the world.

WHO recommends that adults aged between 18 and 65 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity throughout the week, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity. For additional health benefits, adults should increase their moderate-intensity physical activity to 300 minutes per week, or equivalent. Muscle-strengthening activities should be done involving major muscle groups on two or more days a week.

Active commuting offers an extremely effective health solution to modern sedantry lifestyles as supported by findings from the University of Glasgow published earlier this year in the British Medical Journal, a study that investigated the health benefits of cycling to work.

The Scottish-based researchers observed the incidences of heart disease, cancer, accidents and death, adjusting the study to consider other factors contributing to their health, such as sex, age, smoking, and time spent sitting down.

Cyclists had a 52 per cent lower risk of dying from heart disease, and a 40 per cent lower risk of dying from cancer. In terms of developing the disease at all, they had a 46 per cent lower risk of getting heart disease and a 45 per cent lower risk of getting cancer.

The commuters who walked to work also enjoyed some benefits, such as a 27 per cent lower risk of heart disease and a 36 per cent lower risk of dying from it. However, they did not have a lower risk of dying from any of the causes.

People who cycled combined with other modes of transport had 24 per cent lower risk of death from all causes, a 32 per cent lower risk of developing cancer and a 36 per cent lower risk of dying from cancer.

The Australian Heart Foundation estimates the cost of being inactive in Australia is $805 million each year, with much of the costs relating to healthcare spending ($640 million). The cost of physical inactivity to households is $124 million each year, due to diseases related to lack of exercise.

World leaders will meet later this year to take action on physical inactivity and other causes of NCDs, and mental disorders, when they take part in the Third United Nations General Assembly High-level Meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), being held on September 27 in New York.

The World Health Organisation’s Global Action Plan for Physical Activity 2018-2030 can be found here: http://www.who.int/ncds/prevention/physical-activity/gappa/