Purpose: Cycling to school is positively associated with aerobic fitness in Danish schoolchildren and adolescents. The aim of the present study was to determine whether a positive association exists between active travel and aerobic fitness in English schoolchildren, where cycling to school is rare.
Methods: Participants (n = 6085, 47% girls, aged 10.0-15.9 yr) were recruited as part of the East of England Healthy Hearts study. Mass and stature were measured, and body mass index (BMI) was calculated. Aerobic fitness was assessed using the 20-m shuttle run test (20-mSRT); mode of travel to school and physical activity (PA) were assessed by a questionnaire. Differences in BMI, PA, and fitness by travel mode were assessed by ANOVA and ANCOVA. Participants were categorized as "fit" or "unfit" on the basis of existing cutoffs related to adult health. Logistic regression was applied to calculate age, BMI, and PA-adjusted odds of being classified as fit according to travel mode.
Results: Walking was the most common travel mode to school (50%), and cycling was least frequent (8%). Walkers and cyclists of both sexes were significantly fitter than passive transport users, even after controlling for PA. Walking and cycling were associated with an increased likelihood of being categorized as fit in boys and girls. After adjustment for PA, this association remained significant only in girls. No association was observed between travel mode and BMI.
Conclusions: These data confirm findings from countries where cycling is very common in showing that cycling to school is positively associated with aerobic fitness. This study adds to the existing literature by showing that walkers and cyclists are more likely to be classified as fit using recognized cut points. Those who walk and cycle to school may, therefore, be at reduced risk for developing chronic diseases in adulthood.