Get on your bike – or bus – or train……..

Home » Fitness » Get on your bike – or bus – or train……..

Wouldn’t we all love a quick fix in order to lose weight – or maintain our healthy weight easily? And the weight loss industry and the popular media, are very well aware of this! Everywhere we look there are adverts for the latest products expertly designed to enable us to cheat the obesity time bomb for just a little longer. Supplements can apparently burn 20lb of fat per month, beauty clinics will melt your fat for you while you relax on their couch effortlessly flicking through their magazines, food production companies will deliver nutritionally complete diet meals to your door (all of these for very impressive sums of money, it must be said) , and ‘celebrity’ magazines are packed full of photos of impossibly thin women and interviews with them about their diet and exercise programmes so that the civilian masses will keep on buying in the hope of finding the holy grail of thinness – minimum weight, minimal effort. And all too often, the ‘impossibly thin’ pictures turn out to be the ‘before’ pictures, and after the inevitable dissection of the diet and exercise regime, a few pages later there are more pics of the same woman; this time the ‘after’ photos in which they look more emaciated than thin.


The truth is that there are many, many habits that we can all develop to either gain or lose weight but unfortunately our society gears us up to develop the ones that make us pile it on rather than burn it off – increased portion sizes, labour saving gadgets and sedentary jobs/hobbies don’t help, while food that tends to make us fat is cheaper, more accessible and frankly more appealing than nutritious alternatives. There are countless other examples of what has been named our ‘obesogenic’ environment that really do make keeping weight off a battle for so many people. If you are reading this then there is a good chance that you are aware of the Fit For Life Forever concept of the Spirit led appetite, so hopefully you are winning this particular battle, but if this is a new idea for you, or if you are in the early stages of that journey – or in a rut, let’s face it we all have them – then times can sometimes be tough.


It is relatively easy to develop habits that help us lose weight too. There is good evidence for all sorts of simple changes to our lifestyles that we can make with very little effort that individually do not make a huge difference, but as a whole they really can result in healthy weight instead of overweight or overweight instead of obesity. Things like using smaller plates and cups/glasses, eating slowly, keeping any food that may be tempting as ‘second helpings’ away from the table so that it requires effort to refill your plate (please do so if you are still hungry!) and using white plates so that you can actually see how much food you are eating are just some of the tried and tested ways of eating less without really trying. When it comes to activity, stairs instead of lifts, standing instead of sitting and just generally keeping moving in a low key kind of way all play their part and are easy to do for most of us. We all know that diets don’t work in the long term, and what is needed is more habits like this to help us on our way, and one of my main health aims for both myself and my patients is to find the long term lifestyle that works for each individual; and any additional potential string to that bow is very welcome.


So I was delighted when my copy of the most recent British Medical Journal found its way to my letterbox recently with a big picture of a measuring tape set up to look like a seat belt on the cover and the headline ‘Obesity and choice of transport’. Friday night notwithstanding, I dropped what I was doing and was transfixed!


We have known for a long time that people who walk more as part of their daily life tend to weigh less than those who do not – sounds obvious I know. We also know from previous research that when asked about their weight (not body mass index), people who walk or cycle to work tend to say that they weigh less than those who do not walk or cycle. And we have assumed (rightly, it turns out) that using public transport rather than driving helps us to weigh less, but we have not been sure about this. There is general agreement that getting off the bus a stop or two early or parking at the far end of the car park are probably good things to do as they increase the amount of walking that we do, but does it really make a difference? Do the people who get off the bus early also go to the gym five times a week and this is why they weigh less, for example?


The article in the BMJ has made an excellent attempt to answer this; it looks at people who walk or cycle to work, those who commute using public transport and those who drive, and analysed their body mass index and fat percentage – and looked at lots of other things that may account for differences in weight like other activity, age, gender and a limited look at diet to name a few, to try and tease out just how much difference in weight can be explained by how people get to work.


The results were fascinating – people who walked or cycled to work generally weighed one body mass index point less than those who drove, no surprises there, but the figures for those who used public transport were pretty much the same as for those who walked/cycled, that is 5lb for women or 7lb for men less than drivers. In terms of BMI and fat percentage it seems that hopping on the bus does just the same for you as cycling. Great news then?


Well yes! Any drug that could consistently make people weigh 5-7lb less would instantly be hailed as a miracle and marketed to the masses, making millions for whoever invented it. For most people this sort of weight loss may not mean buying a whole new wardrobe of tiny clothes, but it does bring significant health benefits. I would still argue that it is better to walk or cycle if you can because there are other benefits in terms of physical fitness, but if weight loss is your goal then jumping on the bus/train/tube instead of driving (who are we kidding, who would seriously drive in London if they could take the tube!!!) may just be the lifestyle change that makes the difference. And with 70% of us currently taking the easy option, there are lots of us who could potentially benefit from this. Sometimes we need to drive to work for any number of reasons, a good example of this is my own job where I need a car for the inevitable home visits, but surely it’s worth a try if you can? Better for your body and probably your bank balance, better for the planet, it has a lot to recommend it. Even if you only do it some days…………………..


If you want to read the article it is here:


Happy travels!

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