People who switch to walking or cycling to work rather than driving improve their concentration and reduce their stress levels, according to a new study.
Researchers found a “significant impact” in switching ways of getting to work – with walking, cycling and even taking public transport improving commuters’ wellbeing.
And trading the car for trainers, the saddle or the bus or train could also boost the nation’s economic well-being. Experts said getting more commuters off the road could improve gross domestic product (GDP) as the workforce gets to the office feeling less stressed and anxious.
More than two-thirds of the British workforce drive to work – more than six times the number of people who walk and 20 times more than the number who cycle.
However, the new research revealed that even taking public transport improved wellbeing as commuters had time to relax before getting to work.
Currently just under a fifth of commuters use public transport.
Economist Adam Martin said: “When you’re driving you’re stressed – you could be worried about the traffic and getting to work on time.
“You might think that things like disruption to services or crowds of commuters might have been a cause of considerable stress. But buses or trains also give people time to relax, and as there is usually an associated walk to the bus stop or railway station, it appears to cheer people up.”
The time people were commuting also proved to be important. The longer commuters are in a car, the worse their psychological wellbeing. However the longer the walk to work, the better they felt.
Explaining the economic benefits, Mr Martin said: “Even if the individual effects are small there is a substantial increase across the population. If you did encourage more people to walk or cycle to work there is a potential at the national level to benefit.
“There would be fewer cars on the road, reducing congestion and improving freight traffic.”
Mr Martin led the research at the University of East Anglia and the Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR) which looked at nearly two decades of data.
He said: “We used a survey of 20,000 commuters across the UK, the same people are asked questions every year about their commute and their well-being. We could see significant impact if people switched from driving to cycling or walking to work.
Researchers also accounted for factors known to affect wellbeing, including income, having children, moving house or job, and relationship changes.
Mr Martin said the challenges of getting people moving to improve psychological and physical health could be met by incorporating activity into their “mundane” commutes.