Why biking to work can be contagious

PENN STATE (US) — People who walk or bike to work are likely to influence co-workers and partners to do the same, a new study suggests.

“Social influences are important, specifically interpersonal influences, such as spouses and co-workers,” says Melissa Bopp, assistant professor of kinesiology at Penn State. Community and employers also significantly influence whether people choose to actively commute—such as bicycling or walking to and from work.


A new study, published online in the American Journal of Health Behavior, shows that married people are more likely to participate in active commuting than singles, men actively commute more often than women, and mothers are even less likely to actively commute.

Four of the variables studied probed the connection between interpersonal relationships and active commuting. Having a spouse who actively commutes or co-workers who actively commute has a positive influence on the decision to do the same. The perception that a spouse or co-workers will approve of active commuting also has a positive influence, but with slightly less impact.

At an individual level variables that are negatively related to active commuting include age, body mass index, number of children, number of chronic diseases, and number of cars in the household.

Bopp says she was surprised to discover how many variables were significantly related to active commuting. People who are comfortable with their bicycling skills are more likely to actively commute, as are those who have a shorter biking or walking time to work.

Working for an employer and living in a community that supports active commuting can have a positive influence.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, a lack of on-street bike lanes, off-street bike and walking paths, and sidewalks all negatively influence active commuting. Difficult terrain, bad weather, and the speed and volume of traffic along the commuting route can discourage participation.

For the study, researchers distributed surveys to 9,766 people across the mid-Atlantic states and received 1,234 viable completed surveys. Respondents were between the ages of 18 and 75, employed full- or part-time and physically able to walk or bike to work.

Participants responded to questions and statements including how they traveled to work, whether or not their spouse and coworkers influenced their choice on how they traveled to/from work, if their employer supported actively commuting, how confident they were with their cycling skills, and how bicycle-friendly their community is.

Questions about leisure-time activity or any other forms of physical activity participation was not included in the study.

Researchers from the University of South Carolina contributed to the study.

Source: Penn State