Physical activity levels of children who walk, cycle, or are driven to school

Am J Prev Med. 2005 Oct;29(3):179-84. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2005.05.009.


Background: Active commuting to school by walking or bicycle is widely promoted to increase children's physical activity. However, there is little data to describe the impact that travel mode, and in particular cycling, may have on activity levels.

Methods: Primary school children wore an accelerometer recording minute-by-minute physical activity, and completed questions describing travel habits. Total volume of physical activity and hourly physical activity patterns were estimated and groups of children compared by mode of travel to school. Data were collected as part of the European Youth Heart Study.

Results: A total of 332 children (average age 9.7 years, standard deviation [SD] = 0.4 years) completed all measurements. Children who walked to school were significantly more physically active than those who traveled by car (accelerometer counts per minute [cpm]: 667.7, SD = 233.7 vs 557.3, SD = 191.4; p = 0.01). Those who cycled to school recorded higher accelerometer counts than those who traveled by car, but differences were not significant. Boys who walked or cycled to school were significantly more physically active than those traveling by car (walk: 732.2 cpm, SD = 253.1 vs 592.8 cpm, SD = 193.9; p=0.007; cycle: 712.6 cpm, SD = 249.1 vs 592.8 cpm, SD = 193.9; p = 0.013). In girls, walking but not cycling to school was significantly associated with higher daily physical activity levels (606.3 cpm, SD = 197.7, vs 523.4 cpm, SD = 185.0 cpm; p = 0.05).

Conclusions: In primary school-aged children, walking to school is associated with higher levels of overall physical activity compared with those who travel to school by motorized transport. Cycling is associated with higher overall physical activity only in boys.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Anthropometry
  • Automobile Driving / statistics & numerical data*
  • Bicycling / statistics & numerical data*
  • Child
  • Data Collection
  • Denmark
  • Exercise / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physical Exertion
  • Schools*
  • Walking / statistics & numerical data*