Background Research on the associations between active travel and health has focused on major diseases and mortality. In contrast relatively little work has explored the associations between active travel and other measures such as sickness absence and wellbeing, outcomes that may be important for engaging employees and employers in its promotion. Our aim was to explore longitudinal associations of active commuting (cycling to work and walking to work) with physical wellbeing (PCS-8), mental wellbeing (MCS-8) and sickness absence.
Methods We used data from the Commuting and Health in Cambridge study (2009 to 2012; n = 801), a cohort study of commuters recruited through workplaces in Cambridge, to test associations between: a) maintenance of cycling (compared to maintenance of not cycling) to work over a one year period and indices of wellbeing at the end of that one year period; and b) associations between change in cycling to work (increase and decrease in time compared to no change) and change in indices of wellbeing. Indices of well-being were physical (PCS-8) and mental (MCS-8) well-being measured using the Short Form 8 (SF-8) questionnaire and self-reported sickness absence. Linear regression was used for testing associations with PCS-8 and MCS-8, and negative binomial regression for sickness absence. Models were adjusted first for important co-variates (sociodemographic variables, physical activity, weight status and physical limitation), and then additionally adjusted for the baseline outcome of interest (i.e. analysis of co-variance). The analysis was repeated for walking to work. Data was analysed in Stata v13.
Results After adjusting for co-variates, those who maintained cycle commuting reported lower sickness absence (0.46, 95% CI: 0.14–0.80; equivalent to one less day per year) and higher MCS-8 scores (1.50, 0.10–2.10) than those who did not cycle to work. The association for sickness absence persisted after adjustment for baseline sickness absence. No significant associations were observed for PCS-8. Associations between change in cycle commuting and change in indices of wellbeing were not significant. No significant associations were observed for walking.
Conclusion Although an observational study, this work provides some evidence of the value of cycle commuting in improving or maintaining the health and wellbeing of adults of working age. This may be important in engaging employers and policy makers in the promotion of active travel, as well as communicating the benefits of active travel to employees.
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