Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Is commuting to school as a child associated with physical activity in adulthood?

A recent study published in the Scientific Reports Journal examined whether active commuting to school in childhood was associated with physical activity in adulthood.

Study: Associations of active commuting to school in childhood and physical activity in adulthood. Image Credit: EvgenyAtamanenko/Shutterstock.com


Physical inactivity is one of the prominent risk factors for non-communicable diseases (NCDs). The positive impact of physically active (PA) lifestyles is well established. Although the interest in sports or physical activities in leisure time varies by individual, people might be motivated to integrate physical activity into their daily routine.

Further, investing in transport policies enabling physically active lifestyle choices can potentially prevent NCDs.

Active commuting can be beneficial at individual, environmental, and social levels and has been shown to have preventative effects on cardiovascular risk factors. Evidence suggests that active commuting can augment psychological well-being.

Cycling and walking are common in Finland to commute to academic institutions or work, with more than 80% of those aged 10-16 walking or cycling to their schools. Nonetheless, active commuting habits decline with age.

About the study

In the present study, researchers examined associations between active commuting habits in childhood and physical activity in adulthood among Finns.

Participants were recruited from an ongoing community-based observational study assessing cardiovascular risk in young Finns, comprising six cohorts during 1962-77. Baseline assessments were performed, and the sample was followed up at multiple time points until 2020.

The researchers assessed the commuting mode of participants in 1980 when they were aged nine, 12, 15, or 18. Adulthood physical activity was evaluated 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 categorized as inactive commuters. Passive commuters used public transport or cars to reach their workplaces (in adulthood).

Leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) was assessed through five questions and scored between five and 15 as the physical activity index. A pedometer measured steps daily in 2007-08 and 2011-12, and an accelerometer was used in 2018-20.

Logistic regression was used to examine associations between childhood and adulthood commuting, and linear regression was used for associations between commuting in childhood and other physical activity indicators.


The sample comprised 2,436 participants. Commuting modes in childhood were not predictive of adulthood commuting. Active childhood commuting favorably contributed to adulthood LTPA in 2001, 2007, and 2018.

Active childhood commuting was associated with more aerobic steps every 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 association between childhood commuting and LTPA in 2018 was attenuated when adjusted for parental education and adulthood income.

Associations between commuting in childhood and objectively-assessed physical activity were attenuated when adjusted for covariates, except for the association between childhood commuting and steps during weekends in 2018-20.

Furthermore, the researchers re-evaluated significant sample associations restricted to participants who provided data on all covariates in each study year. Accordingly, they observed that childhood commuting predicted LTPA in 2001 and 2007.

They also found that childhood commuting was marginally associated with daily aerobic steps and aerobic steps during weekends in 2018-20.

In supplementary analyses, multilevel modeling was used to evaluate associations longitudinally. The unadjusted mixed models revealed no association between active childhood commuting and daily steps or commuting in adulthood.

However, childhood commuting was associated with adulthood LTPA and daily aerobic steps. Nevertheless, these associations were attenuated after covariate adjustment. 


The regression analyses revealed that childhood commuting was not associated with adulthood commuting. Nonetheless, commuting in childhood was associated with LTPA during their mid-adulthood.

While multilevel (crude) models suggested associations in the same direction, covariate adjustment attenuated the associations. Notably, only the associations of childhood commuting with adulthood LTPA in 2007 and daily steps during weekends in 2018-20 remained significant after adjustment.

Further, the adjusted covariates were not identical across years. The researchers could not account for the commuting distance, as this information was only available in 2018.

Moreover, public transport users may have commuted to take a bus, tram, or train, and the amount of physical activity during these commutes is unknown.

Taken together, active childhood commuting to school might contribute to adulthood physical activity and should be encouraged from an early age.

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