The Easiest Way to Get Fit? 'Incidental Movement' is Key

I've written before about how I believe that selling my car was one of the most beneficial things I have ever done for my health and well being—and I stand by that claim, if for no other reason than for all the incidental movement that is now built into my life. 

Brock Armstrong
8-minute read
Episode #388

The Wellness Benefits

Even sporadic cycle commuting was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all-cause mortality.

A recent study in the UK gathered 263,450 participants (52% female and 48% male with an average age of 52.6) and asked them what mode of transportation they used (walking, cycling, car, or public transit) to commute to and from work on a typical day. The researchers then measured the incidents of fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular disease, cancer, or any causes of death among the participants over the next five years. The results were published in the British Medical Journal.

Awesomely, after the five years was up, the researchers concluded that even sporadic cycle commuting was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and all-cause mortality.

The study's authors wrote that “Cycle commuters had a 52 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 40 percent lower risk of dying from cancer. They also had 46 percent lower risk of developing heart disease and a 45 percent lower risk of developing cancer at all.” I like those odds!

OK, this part takes it to the next level: the researchers even included the risk of getting in a bike vs. car accident in the study, and still came up with the 52 percent overall lower risk of dying. So, yes indeed this study gives us more evidence that even the "risks" of riding a bike get outweighed by the benefits of being a pedal-estrian.

As for walking to work, assuming the distance isn’t prohibitively far, there's a load of reasons to add more movement to your commute.

  • A study at Stanford University showed that people score higher on tests for creative thinking when they walk to their destination.
  • Research from the American Heart Association shows that you can cut the effects of even a genetic predisposition to obesity in half by walking for an hour per day.
  • A study from the University of East Anglia showed that people who switched from driving to walking (or cycling) actually experienced a greater sense of well-being. And, if you are interested in being a high performer, walking to work also showed a greater ability to concentrate and remain calm under pressure.
  • According to a Penn State University study, your spouse, friends, and coworkers are more likely to choose a more active mode of transportation if they see you doing it. It’s kind of like the lemming effect but for the power for good. You can find out more about that in the article Is Exercise Socially Contagious?
  • According to a 2013 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine walking to work can lower your blood pressure and lower your risk of diabetes.
  • And finally, according to a 2015 study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, walking outdoors (preferably in some nice green spaces or parks) can actually put your brain in a meditative state. This is a practice called Forest Bathing and I can tell you from first-hand experience that it really works.

Make Exercise Part of your Day

Live an active and mobile life for your health and wellness, and hit the gym for your biceps.

What elevates the importance of these studies is that they were done on people who were commuting to and from work or school, not on people going out for a dedicated session or a set amount of predetermined “exercise time.” These are people who are building the fitness, cardio, stress-relieving, fresh-air-breathing, leg-stretching, carbon footprint-reducing, wind-in-your-face aspects of movement into their daily life.

This shows us the added benefits of making movement, exercise, and activity part of your day-to-day life over simply hitting the gym. Getting a dedicated workout in four or five times a week is a great way to hit your specific sport and fitness goals but to be a truly healthy and well individual, you need to keep that movement going for the other 23 hours of the day. Ok, sure you need to sleep in there too but you get my point.

Live an active and mobile life for your health and wellness, and hit the gym for your biceps.

It doesn’t matter how much you rip-it-up in your BODYPUMP class if you proceed to sit in your car, at your desk, back in the car, on the couch, and then retire to your comfy bed, day after day. The incidental movement that happens between the gym and bedtime is what truly defines your overall wellness on a deeper level.

It's a Mindset

To bring this full circle and back to my lack of a car, I want to reassure you that you don’t actually have to sell your car (if you still don’t want to after all of this) but I do want to issue you a challenge to at least adopt what I call a “car-less mindset.” Give yourself the task of choosing a different mode of transportation for at least 75 percent of your journeys from now on. If you do that, I am certain that you will start to fall in love with the idea when your blood pressure drops, your creativity rises, the steps on your activity tracker sore, while the numbers on the bathroom scale plummet.

Let’s regain our health by shunning the modern conveniences that are turning us into sedentary lumps. And again, what better place to start than with our daily commute.

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All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Brock Armstrong Get-Fit Guy

Brock Armstrong was the host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast between 2017 and 2021. He is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute.