Is active travel a stable physical activity behaviour? Evidence from the German Mobility Panel

Walking and cycling—active travel—can help adults achieve the World Health Organization’s recommended 150+ minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity per week. Based on a nationally representative panel-survey of daily travel in Germany, this study assesses weekly minutes of active travel by adult respondents participating in the panel study over two consecutive years.

The paper first identifies covariates for achieving 150+ minutes of active travel during a week in year 1 of panel participation. The analysis then compares the patterns of four groups of active travel over the two survey years: ‘high maintainers’ who achieved 150+ minutes in both year 1 and year 2; ‘low maintainers’ who did not achieve 150+ minutes in either year 1 nor year 2; ‘adopters’ who did not achieve 150+ minutes in year 1, but did so in year 2; and ‘relapsers’ who achieved 150+ minutes in year 1, but not in year 2.

About half (48%) of respondents achieved 150+ minutes of active travel per week in their first year of panel participation. Of those, about three-quarters were ‘high maintainers’ with 150+ minutes of active travel in both years. Logistic regressions showed that ‘high maintainers’ were more likely to be 30 years or older, not employed, have a monthly public transport pass, live within 2km of a shopping destination, and less likely to own cars. Transport and land-use policies can help influence several of these factors. Compared to ‘low maintainers’, policy interventions to increase population shares achieving health-enhancing levels of physical activity from active travel may be most promising when targeting ‘adopters’ and ‘relapsers’. These groups are more similar to the ‘high maintainers,’ with at least one year reporting of health-enhancing physical activity from active travel—compared to the ‘low maintainers’.

Christine Eisenmann, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology