A healthy commuteAug 7th, 2009 | By editor | Category: The Hindu Speaks, Viewing News
A brisk, stress-free walk is a pleasurable experience, and from a medical standpoint, the first line of defence against diabetes, hypertension, and lifestyle-related diseases. New data suggest that even non-leisure walking confers distinct health benefits. The results of a major cross-sectional study in the United States indicate that commuters are at lower risk for cardiovascular disease. Commuting here is defined as walking or biking regularly as part of the trip from home to work. The findings of the 20-year Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study involving 2,364 participants are important for public health policy, given the trend towards unbridled motorisation and loss of safe walking spaces in emerging economies such as India.
The health benefits of active commuting must persuade policymakers to act quickly to eliminate the dangers that walkers and cyclists face. Although more work must be done to determine the cause and effect link, it is evident from the data reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine that active commuting is inversely associated with cardiovascular risk factors — namely, obesity, triglyceride and insulin levels, and blood pressure. Clearly, governments concerned about public health must provide citizens all facilities to walk comfortably and safely, and encourage them to commute.
A serious infrastructure deficit in India’s urban centres prevents many from using public transport. There is also the important question of safety. Evidence shows that pedestrians, occupants of public transport vehicles and two-wheeler riders carry a higher risk of road traffic injury in South Asia, while the opposite is true in high income countries. This situation is hampering the effort to reduce the burden of chronic diseases. The INTERHEART study reported not long ago that about 90 per cent of the coronary heart disease risk in South Asia could be linked to specific factors, and these can be modified by active commuting. They include hypertension, diabetes, bad cholesterol ratios, and abdominal obesity.
Encouraging walking should, therefore, become a policy imperative. It is disappointing that massive investments being made in urban centres are creating bridges, flyovers and roads, which, in the absence of proper design, endanger walkers. Also, there are no functional urban transport regulators in the States to develop modern, integrated bus and train systems. The Sundar Committee’s recommendation to create Road Safety and Traffic Management Boards in the States has also evoked little response. At least now, there must be a major effort to make cities friendly for walkers and commuters.