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Is walking to school associated with improved metabolic health?

Andreia Nogueira Pizarro1*, José Carlos Ribeiro1, Elisa Amélia Marques12, Jorge Mota1 and Maria Paula Santos1

Author Affiliations

1 Research Centre in Physical Activity, Health and Leisure, Faculty of Sports, University of Porto, Rua Dr. Plácido Costa, 91, 4200-450, Porto, Portugal

2 Higher Education Institute of Maia (ISMAI), Maia, Portugal

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2013, 10:12  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-10-12

Published: 29 January 2013



Active commuting to/from school is an important source of physical activity that has been declining over the past years. Although it is an affordable and simple way of increasing physical activity levels it is still unclear whether it has enough potential to improve health. Therefore, the aim of this cross sectional study was to examine the relationship between active commuting to/from school and metabolic risk factors in 10 to 12 year old children.


Participants were 229 adolescents, selected through consecutive sampling, (121 girls) with mean age of 11.65 (±0.73) years old from Porto, Portugal. Means of transport to/from school was accessed by asking: ”How do you usually travel to school?” and “How do you usually travel from school?”. Active commuting was considered if children reported at least one of the trips (to or from school) by active means. Total physical activity was obtained with Actigraph accelerometer for 7 consecutive days. Lipid profile measurements were conducted with Cholestech LDX® analyser. Waist circumference and blood pressure were measured by standard methods. The criteria for metabolic syndrome defined by International Diabetes Federation for children and adolescents were used.


Adjusted binary logistic regression analysis suggested that walkers have higher odds to have a better waist circumference (OR = 2.64, 95% CI = 1.63-6.01) and better high density lipoprotein cholesterol (OR = 2.14, 95% CI = 1.01-4.52) profiles than non-active commuters, independent of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. No associations were found for other metabolic risk factors.


Exertions to increase and maintain walking to school may be particularly relevant as it is likely to have a positive impact on children’s health and eventually decrease metabolic and cardiovascular diseases.

HDL-C; Waist circumference; Active commuting; Cardiovascular disease risk factors