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Physical Activity From Transportation

Indicator Description

Physical activity from transportation measures the percentage of all trips made by foot or by bicycle that are at least 10 minutes long. Walking or bicycling for sustained periods helps people get enough physical activity to stay healthy. Data come from the 2009 National Household Travel Survey (NHTS).

Related Strategies

Transportation and Health Connection

Active transportation allows people to be active throughout the day and potentially improve their health. The connections between physical activity and public health have been widely documented. Research suggests that physically active adults “have lower rates of all-cause mortality, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, colon cancer, breast cancer, and depression” than their physically inactive peers (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996).

Responding to evidence of the health benefits of physical activity, the U.S. Surgeon General in 1996 released a report entitled Physical Activity and Health, recommending 30 minutes per day of moderate-intensity physical activity (Scmidt, Biwer, Kalscheuer, 2001). With fewer than 5% of U.S. adults achieving this recommended level of physical activity (Troiano et al., 2008), Healthy People 2020 identified “increasing the number of trips made by walking and bicycling” as a target for improving the health of the U.S. population (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010). More recently, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, which recommends that adults aged 18 to 64 engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity each week (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008).

Many people struggle to find the time for physical activity, especially if they aim for one continuous 30-minute bout of exercise. Research shows, however, that activity accumulated in several bouts, a minimum of 10 minutes at a time, has similar health effects (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008). Walking or bicycling as a form of transportation or walking to public transportation stations, such as bus stops, also count toward meeting the daily physical activity recommendations (Freeland et al., 2013; Besser, Dannenberg, 2005). Overall, there is a significant 12% reduction in mortality associated with active transportation (Samitz, et al., 2011), and there is an 11% reduction in risk of cardiovascular disease associated with active transportation (Hamer, et. al., 2008; Hu, et. a., 2007.

About the Data

The NHTS is the most widely used tool to track progress toward the Healthy People 2020 targets for walking and cycling trips (CDC, 2010). State data for annual number of trips by transportation mode by derived trip time were downloaded and sorted using the NHTS online Table Designer tool. Data were categorized by state, household location, transportation mode used on trip as reported by respondent, and derived trip time in minutes. Trip counts by mode for trip time ranges of 0-4, 4-9, 10-19, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, and 50+ minutes were downloaded into tables. All counts of trips made by bicycle and walking 10 minutes or longer were summed and divided by the total trip counts for each state.

A limitation to these data is that the survey is conducted via telephone. That limits the sample size to only those persons with home telephones (U.S. DOT Federal Highway Administration, 2011). In addition, the survey asks respondents to recall the trips made for all members of the household for the previous 24-hour period, which might lead to recall bias.

Moving Forward

Many lifestyles in the United States are built around car travel and provide few opportunities for physical activity. Measuring and tracking the number of trips that require physical activity reveals individual physical activity levels. It also reflects how much support is needed to achieve more active transportation. To increase physical activity, it is important to reduce car dependency and provide increased opportunities for walking and bicycling. This indicator can be useful for decision makers wanting to create and implement policies to support alternate modes of transportation and direct investments to supportive infrastructure such as bicycle lanes, greenways, and sidewalks.


Besser LM, Dannenberg AL. Walking to Public Transit: Steps to Help Meet Physical Activity Recommendations. American Journal of Preventive Medicine;2005:29:273-80. *

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Promoting Physical Activity – 2nd Edition: A Guide for Community Action; 2010.

Freeland AL, Banerjee SN, Dannenberg AL, Wendel AM. Walking Associated with Public Transit: Moving Toward Increased Physical Activity in the United States. American Journal of Public Health;2013:103:536-42.

Hamer M, Chida Y. Active commuting and cardiovascular risk: a meta-analytic review. Preventive Medicine; 2008:46:9–13.

Hu G, Jousilahti P, Antikainen R, Tuomilehto J. Occupational, commuting, and leisure-time physical activity in relation to cardiovascular mortality among Finnish subjects with hypertension. American Journal of Hypertension; 2007:20(12):1242-1250.

Samitz G, Egger M, Zwahlen M. Domains of physical activity and all-cause mortality: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of cohort studies. International Journal of Epidemiology; 2011:40(5):1382–1400.

Schmidt WD, Biwer CJ, Kalscheuer LK. Effects of Long Versus Short Bout Exercise on Fitness and Weight Loss in Overweight Females. Journal of the American College of Nutrition; 2001:20:494-501.

Troiano RP, Berrigan D, Dodd KW, Masse LC, Tilert T, McDowell M. Physical activity in the United States measured by accelerometer. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise; 2008:40:181-8.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General; 1996.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2008 Physical activity guidelines for Americans; 2008.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy People 2020; 2010.

U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration. Summary of Travel Trends: 2009 National Household Travel Survey; 2011.

* Indicates research that supports policies analyzed

† Indicates research that supports equity or vulnerable populations studied

Last updated: Monday, August 24, 2015