Riding bus may improve health

Bus riders get a boost in physical activity just by walking to and from stops, suggests a new Metro Public Health Department study, whose findings are in line with national research.

Nearly a third of Americans who use public transportation get 30 or more minutes of moderate physical activity — the amount recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — just from walking to and from their transit stops.

That finding prompted the health department to partner with the Metro Transit Authority for a study of EasyRide customers. EasyRide allows workers at participating employers to swipe their ID card in lieu of paying a fare, and MTA then bills the employer. The study’s goal is getting more employers to sign up and take advantage of evidence-based health benefits.

MTA partners with more than 30 employers, including Metro Nashville, the state of Tennessee and Vanderbilt University. There have been 850,000 passenger trips this year on MTA’s EasyRide program, officials said.

“If we can promote it better, and get 25 to 40 percent of people doing it, then that’s a lot of individuals who are getting more physical activity,” said Jimmy Dills, health impact assessment coordinator for Metro Public Health. “The employer gets the tax benefit, but long term they will get reduced health-care costs along with the benefit of having a healthier and more productive workforce.”

The study is part of the NashVitality campaign, which is funded by a federal stimulus grant to combat obesity by increasing healthy eating and active living. The report is expected to be complete by the beginning of next year.

Savings and health

The commuter program is designed to connect the business community with transit, said Eric Beyer, the EasyRide program manager. In the past, MTA encouraged employers to participate for the tax savings, but once the study is complete, officials also will promote EasyRide’s health benefits, he said.

The study also proposes that riding transit can decrease the risk of roadway injuries, improve air quality and reduce stress.

Freddie O’Connell, chairman of the MTA board and a longtime advocate for walking and biking, takes the bus to work several times and week and said he reaps benefits.

“It’s not like you have to take the bus every day to experience the benefit,” he said. “You take just a little bit of something at the margin and add it up over time, and it starts to have a pretty significant impact.

“I definitely walk more steps in a given day when I’m using public transportation than I do when I’m driving.”

Contact Nancy DeVilleat ndeville@tennessean.comor 615-259-8304.

Full article here: http://www.tennessean.com/article/20111024/NEWS01/310210090/Riding-bus-may-improve-health

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