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The health and economic benefits of active commuting in Scotland

27 Jul 2021

It is well recognised that walking, cycling, or using some other form of physical activity for all or part of a journey, is good for population health as it helps people incorporate physical activity into their everyday lives. Active commuting also helps reduce carbon emissions and air pollution while also benefitting local high streets from the extra footfall brought by cyclist and pedestrian commuters.

In this new research, we used data from the 2001 and 2011 Censuses to estimate how many active commuters (people who walk or cycle to work) in Scotland were able to achieve the daily physical activity recommendation of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity through their commuting journey. We also used the WHO Health Economic Assessment Tool (HEAT) to estimate the health economic value of this active commuting in Scotland.

Active commuting infographic - if you require an accessible version or a transcript please email

This showed that although walking and cycling make up a relatively modest share of commuting journeys in Scotland (about 13–15%), active commuting can play an important role in achieving the recommended levels of physical activity. Half of active commuters met 30 minutes per day of activity through their commute in 2011.

The Health Economic Assessment Tool was used to estimate the number of deaths averted by active commuting, and the associated economic value of walking and cycling annually and over a ten-year period. Despite the relatively low levels of active commuting in Scotland, in 2011 it was estimated that close to 200 deaths a year could be prevented through current levels of active commuting. The annual health economic benefit of active commuting in Scotland was over £671 million* in 2011.

These estimates of physical activity and health economic benefit associated with active commuting were produced at a national level but also for every local authority in Scotland (provided in Tables A1-A4 at the end of the published paper). 

We hope that the local findings can be used across Scotland to support active travel investment and to encourage more people to walk and cycle for everyday trips.

Comments from study authors:

“These findings provide valuable evidence of the role that active commuting can play in achieving government recommended levels of physical activity and demonstrates the considerable health economic value that active commuting can provide to Scotland.”
Dr Graham Baker, Physical Activity for Health Research Centre, University of Edinburgh

“Our study shows that walking and cycling make a valuable contribution to health and well-being in Scotland and hints at the potential for even greater impact if we can support more people in Scotland to walk and cycle on a regular basis.“
Dr Paul Kelly, Physical Activity for Health Research Centre, University of Edinburgh

Active commuting not only benefits health, but contributes to lowering carbon emissions, reducing air pollution and creating healthier more attractive communities. Sustained increased investment in active travel infrastructure and behaviour change is needed to grow active travel and active commuting across Scotland from a relatively low base.
Bruce Whyte, Glasgow Centre for Population Health 

Access the research paper: Quantifying the health and economic benefits of active commuting in Scotland

Download the infographic as a PDF.

*Note that the research used Euros to calculate the economic benefit as €780 million which has been converted to £671 million using an exchange rate of €1 = £0.86.

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