Commuting by Public Transportation May Improve Metabolic Health

Taking the bus or train to work may reduce the risk for heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.

ORLANDO, Fla. — Individuals who commute to work by public transportation are less likely to be overweight or have hypertension or diabetes, according to research presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions.

“Many previous studies reported longer distance or longer time of active travel — walking or cycling — in daily life was associated with various better clinical features, including fewer obesity, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or lower mortality,” said study researcher Hisako Tsuji, MD, who is director of the Moriguchi City Health Examination Center in Japan.

“Active commuting modes to work may be important physical activity in countries where lifestyles have become sedentary. There have been few studies which directly compared clinical outcomes among different commuting modes,” she added. 

Dr Tsuji, who presented the data at the meeting, and colleagues conducted their study in Japan to determine whether risk factors for heart disease and stroke like obesity, hypertension, and diabetes are affected by the way commuters get to work.

Of 16 397 workers who had an annual health checkup in Moriguchi city in Osaka, Japan in 2012, 5908 were included in the study (mean age, 61 years; 37% men). The participants answered survey questions about whether their job was physically active or sedentary and whether they walked or biked, took the bus or train, or drove cars or motorbikes to get to work.

The researchers used logistic regression analyses to calculate the odds ratios (ORs) of excess body weight, defined as BMI greater than 25, hypertension, and diabetes relative to the group of workers who drove to work.

Data showed that 17.0% of workers who took public transportation to work had excess body weight, 21.7% had hypertension, and 3.5% had diabetes, which was significantly lower than drivers (33.4%, 36.9%, and 8.3%, respectively) and walkers/bikers (21.6%, 29.6%, and 5.8%, respectively). 

“Taking public transportation instead of car driving can be substantial regular daily physical activity to reduce weight, blood pressure, and blood sugar,” Dr Tsuji concluded.

Results also revealed that, compared with drivers, those who used public transportation were less likely to be overweight (OR=0.58; 95% CI, 0.47-0.72); less likely to have hypertension (OR=0.72; 95% CI, 0.58-0.89); and less likely to have diabetes (OR=0.66; 95% CI, 0.44-1.00).

Interestingly, similar results were noted when comparing participants who used public transportation with those who walked or biked to work, said Dr Tsuji.

In a press release, the researchers noted that this is possibly due to the fact walkers or bikers may have walked farther to the bus or train stop than the walkers or bikers had to travel for work.

They also explained that it is difficult to determine whether public transportation improved the health of commuters or whether they were already healthier than the drivers and the walkers or bikers.

Additionally, all study participants were Japanese and therefore less likely to be overweight than those in Western populations, the researchers noted.


  1. Tsuji H, Shiojima I. S 2034 – Commuting by Public Transportation is Associated with Lower Prevalence of Excess Body Weight, Hypertension, and Diabetes. Presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions; November 7-11, 2015; Orlando, FL.