A recent study published in Scientific reports The journal examined whether active commuting to school in childhood was associated with physical activity in adulthood.
Stady: Associations of active commuting to school in childhood and physical activity in adulthood. Image credit: EvgenyAtamanenko/Shutterstock.com
Physical inactivity is a prominent risk factor for non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The positive impact of physically active (PA) lifestyles is well established. Although interest in sports or physical activities in leisure time varies by individual, there may be a drive for people to incorporate physical activity into their daily routine.
Moreover, investing in transportation policies that enable physically active lifestyle choices can prevent non-communicable diseases.
Active mobility can be beneficial at individual, environmental, and social levels and has been shown to have protective effects on cardiovascular risk factors. Evidence suggests that active mobility can enhance psychological well-being.
Cycling and walking is common in Finland for commuting to academic institutions or work, with more than 80% of 10-16 year olds walking or cycling to their schools. However, active commuting habits decline with age.
In this study, researchers examined associations between active commuting habits in childhood and physical activity in adulthood among Finns.
Participants were recruited through an observational, community-based study assessing the risk of cardiovascular disease in young Finns, comprising six cohorts during the period 1962–1977. Baseline assessments were performed, and the sample was followed up at multiple time points through 2020.
Researchers assessed how participants moved around in 1980 when they were 9, 12, 15, or 18. Physical activity in adulthood was assessed in 2001, 2007, 2011, and 2018.
Participants who cycled or walked to school were classified as active commuters, and those who used cars or public transportation were classified as inactive commuters. Passive travelers used public transportation or cars to get to their workplaces (in adulthood).
Leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) was assessed with five questions scored between five and 15 as an index of physical activity. The pedometer measured steps per day in 2007-08 and 2011-12, and the accelerometer was used in 2018-20.
Logistic regression was used to examine the associations between mobility in childhood and adulthood, and linear regression was used for the associations between mobility in childhood and other indicators of physical activity.
The sample consisted of 2436 participants. Mobility patterns in childhood were not predictive of mobility in adulthood. Active mobility in childhood contributed positively to LTPA attainment in 2001, 2007, and 2018.
Active mobility in childhood was associated with more aerobic steps each day. Active commuting was associated with daily aerobic steps, daily aerobic steps during weekdays and weekends, and daily steps during weekends in 2018-20.
The relationship between childhood mobility and LTPA was weakened in 2018 when adjusted for parental education and adult income.
Associations between childhood mobility and objectively assessed physical activity were attenuated when adjusted for covariates, except for the association between childhood mobility and steps during weekends in 2018-20.
Furthermore, the researchers reassessed the associations of a significant sample limited to participants who provided data on all covariates in each study year. Accordingly, they noted that childhood mobility predicted LTPA in 2001 and 2007.
They also found that mobility in childhood was marginally associated with daily aerobic steps and aerobic steps over weekends in 2018-20.
In complementary analyses, multilevel modeling was used to assess associations longitudinally. Unadjusted mixed models revealed no association between active mobility in childhood and daily steps or mobility in adulthood.
However, mobility in childhood was related to pubertal LTPA and daily aerobic steps. However, these associations were attenuated after variable adjustment.
Regression analyzes revealed that mobility in childhood was not associated with adulthood. However, mobility in childhood was associated with LTPA during mid-adulthood.
While the (raw) multilevel models suggested associations in the same direction, adjustment for the covariate weakened the associations. Notably, the associations of childhood commuting with LTPA in adulthood in 2007 and daily steps during weekends in 2018-20 remained significant after adjustment.
Furthermore, the adjusted covariates were not identical across the years. The researchers were unable to calculate the commuting distance, as this information was only available in 2018.
Furthermore, public transport users may have taken the bus, tram, or train, and the amount of physical activity during these commutes is unknown.
Taken together, the active transition from childhood to school may contribute to physical activity in adulthood and should be encouraged from an early age.