We sat down with experts at the University to discuss the wellbeing benefits of active travel (walking, wheeling or cycling) and the importance of appreciating your active travel commutes.
We’ve also included some of your top tips for active travel linked to physical and mental health benefits — can you spot one of yours?
Embracing the wellbeing benefits of active travel
You may already travel actively most days without ever considering those commutes as ‘exercise’. It’s easy to forget that active travelling can be beneficial for your mind and body, and it doesn’t take much to reap those benefits.
Qiuying: “Considering commuting as daily cardio exercise helps me stay motivated to walk, as it is both good for the planet and for my own health.”
Greg Hull, Health and Wellbeing Officer at the University, discussed the positive effects of active travelling, even for short distances:
“With active travel, sometimes people think you have to do a lot of commuting to start feeling the physical benefits, particularly when walking. But that really isn’t the case.
Recent joint research from Australia and Denmark found that as few as just 2000 steps a day is beneficial to our physical health.
It’s important that we consider even short active travels as exercise, and not just ingrained as part of your everyday life. If we do that, we’ll put more emphasis on embracing the wellbeing benefits of active travel.”
By considering your walk, wheel or cycle as exercise, the physical aspect of active travelling naturally connects to your mental health too:
“The UK Mental Health Foundation tells us that physical activity has a huge potential to enhance our mental alertness, energy and positive mood,” says Greg.
“The message is clear — active travelling is immensely beneficial for your general physical health and mental wellbeing.”
Taking time to reflect on your active travel
So now we know that even short, active commutes can be considered physical activity, how do we start appreciating that feel-good factor we often get from other exercise?
Samuel: “My top tip is to walk through nature on your commute if possible! For example, walking through Hyde Park rather than along busy roads. Walking through natural landscapes helps to put me in a good mood for the day.”
Sally Chan, a University Sustainability Architect, was the Project lead for Walking to Zero — a campaign that asked students to walk around Leeds to increase environmental awareness.
Sally describes how taking a step back after your commute to reflect can help you to acknowledge active travel as exercise for your body and mind:
“It’s good to take the time to reflect on your active travel, even if it’s just part of your daily commute, to really appreciate the wellbeing benefits.
Just like you would get with regular exercise, walking gives you a boost and it’s good to take the time to appreciate that.”
Being mindful during your active travel
Baghya: “By walking to campus I was able to see the beauty of nature which was difficult to find when I travelled by car. I can feel the cool breeze of air, the vibrant colours of flowers, the freshness of water droplets on my face, and the chirping of the birds.”
Whilst the primary focus of the Walking to Zero project was to increase students’ awareness to climate-related issues, Sally said many students saw long-term benefits of mindfulness and paying attention to their surroundings when walking, helping students feel less lonely:
“Students expressed that they felt less alone thanks to participating in our project, despite taking all of their walks on their own.
Paying more attention to nature and appreciating what it has to offer, simply by not listening to music and staying away from mobile devices, made students feel like they were ‘in the moment’ and more connected to the city.
This was only possible after some degree of ‘debunking’ as part of the training that students undertook for the project. We asked them to use their senses to see the beauty of the natural environment around them, and hear the living sounds of the landscape that would have been missed otherwise.
This ultimately gave students a better sense of belonging, something which is important for anyone who might be suffering from loneliness or homesickness.”
Give it a go on your next commute to campus — be mindful and take in your surroundings when travelling actively, and take the time once you’ve finished to really soak in that boost in endorphins!