Physical activity is often performed for leisure and recreation. In the hustle and bustle of daily life, the idea of walking or cycling to school or work might seem like an essential practicality rather than an opportunity to enhance personal well-being. However, the benefits of active commuting extend far beyond the convenience of transportation.

Numerous studies have demonstrated that active commuters have a lower risk of mortality, obesity, and various non-communicable diseases, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, compared with commuters who primarily use motorised transportation modes. Moreover, it appears that the longer the distance covered during the commute, the greater the health benefits (1,2). One study also shows that a few minutes of vigorous intermittent lifestyle physical activity a day may reduce cancer risk. Therefore, choosing the stairs or the route with more hills is more likely to be an opportunity rather than a threat (3).

Low-grade inflammation is associated with many diseases, including some that are leading causes of disability and death, like cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, depression, and neurodegenerative diseases (4). Similar to exercise or leisure-time physical activity, active commuting could decrease the risk of diseases by reducing inflammation. In the CLIMATE-NUDGE’s recently published study, financially supported by the Academy of Finland, Strategic Research Council (5), we explored the association between active commuting and low-grade inflammation and found that adults who walked or cycled to work for at least 45 minutes daily had lower levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of low-grade inflammation.

Critics may raise concerns about the potential detrimental effects of air pollution and noise exposure on active commuters, given that cyclists and walkers are likely to be more exposed to these environmental stressors, at least in Finland (6). However, our study suggests that the overall benefits of active commuting clearly outweigh the potential harm caused by air pollution (5,7).

Contrary to the perception of commuting as an annoying routine task, walking or cycling to school can be an enjoyable experience. In addition, when the path includes natural environments like parks or forests, active commuting may enhance mental health, as a European study suggests (8). Therefore, even if the more visually pleasant route is longer, it might be worth considering commuting through it rather than choosing the shorter and potentially more unpleasant route. Many cities have been working towards increasing walkability and cyclability in urban spaces, recognising the importance of these activities in promoting a healthier lifestyle (9,10).

Furthermore, the financial benefits of active commuting are noteworthy. While there might sometimes be a substantial initial investment, for example, when acquiring a high-end electric bicycle costing a couple of thousands of euros, the long-term savings make it a profitable option. For example, switching from driving to cycling could save over seven euros for every ten kilometres of commuting (11,12). In Finland, where the average commuting distance to work and school is 15.7 km and 6.4 km, respectively, there is potential for savings, especially when considering that over 50% of trips less than 5 km are undertaken by car (13,14).

Last but not least, as the climate crisis intensifies, combatting climate change by switching from motorised traffic to active commuting remains appealing since it is a good alternative to effectively decrease emissions. In Finland, it has been suggested that 30 % of trips people drive to work could be shifted to sustainable modes like walking, cycling, rail or bus commuting, averaging 8 km per trip (15). According to our estimations, this means that direct emissions could be reduced by up to 12% (15,16), which is considerable. In addition, increased cycling improves air quality by reducing driving and thus the number of cars on the roads. Even if the city-wide air quality may remain relatively unchanged, residents living in previously heavily trafficked areas may benefit, as even a slight decrease in air pollutants can improve health and well-being (17). Decreased noise levels can also contribute to these positive effects (17). In conclusion, the benefits of active commuting exceed the physical act of moving from one place to another. It enhances our health, provides a cost-saving alternative to motorised transportation modes, and contributes to a cleaner environment.