Weekends with Womack

Getting fitter in Sydney—my public transportation training plan

It’s now been 3 weeks since I arrived in Sydney for my sabbatical work trip, and I’ve been blogging a lot about the changes it’s brought about in my physical activity and other health-related habits. At first it was a big adjustment to carry around my laptop, work stuff, and haul groceries from the store to my apartment, all on foot. Sydney is also hilly, so hauling myself up and down those hills was causing knee pain and considerable huffing, puffing, and sweating. Even though I thought I was fairly active in Boston, I really noticed a difference in how my body felt (namely more achy and tired in my shoulders and feet), how I slept (longer than I do at home) and how I ate (generally less than at home).

I’ve also been going places using public transport. The public transportation system here is pretty extensive, with buses, light rail, heavy rail, and ferries (I get on a boat to go to Sydney Opera House from my apartment!). Today I took bus and light rail to get to the beach at Maroubra where I met some friends for a beach outing and fish and chips after (Sydney has completely mastered the art of frying, I must say). I’ve been taking buses all over town, walking to lunch dates, and riding my bike along the multi-use paths and some quiet streets.

I’m starting to notice some subtle differences. My right knee is not really hurting going down stairs or hills, and my left knee is not really hurting going up them. This is a good thing. The hills on my regular routes just don’t seem as long or as high as when I first got here. The bags I carry don’t seem as heavy. Could I be getting fitter?

The evidence is promising. A recent Wall Street Journal article  tells stories and quotes studies about the benefits of walking, biking and taking public transportation to and from work. In some studies done both in the UK and the US, researchers found that commuters switching from driving to taking public transport experienced on average some small weight loss over time. This is not surprising, given that (according to this study) commuters using public transport average an extra 8—33 minutes of day of walking.

I’m not advocating public transport as a weight loss tool; what I’m saying is that, after 3 weeks of walking, busing, cycling, and taking trains and ferries, I’m feeling peppier, more nimble, stronger, and in general better.

And that’s not all that public transportation does for us.  According to many reports on the benefits of public transportation on health. It’s basically good for what ails you, especially if you prefer fewer traffic accidents, cleaner air, less car-induced stress and congestion, and a more active approach to getting back and forth.

I plan to keep up the active commuting when I return to Boston. It will take some prioritizing, as it’s not simply a 20-minute walk like what I have here. I will have to take the bus or ride my bike to the subway, then take the commuter rail to my academic job at home. This takes a long time—1:45 each way! But the drive is about an hour each way (sometimes more if traffic is bad), and it is a misery. I’m really tired of doing it, so next semester, I will take public transport at least once a week and see how things go from there. The fact is, I like it—it feels good. So why not do it?

What about you, blog readers? Have you changed your commuting habits lately (or not)? Have you noticed any changes in how you feel? I’d love to hear about it.

5 thoughts on “Getting fitter in Sydney—my public transportation training plan

  1. Onward, Catherine. That’s great. I too, have had 1 long work commute…when I worked at a construction site in Metro Vancouver, it was 1 hr. 40 min. 1 way… I biked to a light rail station, got on train, rode it for 10 km., parked my bike and continued on rail, bus transfer and walk 10 min. to construction site.

    That was my longest. But the advantage of all this, homeward, I took the train all the way to station to get bike. Then ride home. By then, peak rush hr. was gone. 🙂

    I’ve lived always near public transit, near key services/shops where I could walk only 15 min. https://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2014/04/03/what-shapes-me-walkable-cycleable-neighbourhoods/

    You said you were not advocating public transportation/non-car options, as a weight loss method: the reality is it can be…on a long term basis. We really have to face this stark reality when we construct/retrofit our communities.

    People think I’m in shape because of my genes…..I would challenge them….that 75% it is not. I do have family members with extra challenges of weight control.

    It is because of my lifestyle and the choices that I’ve made where to live for the past few decades: in liveable, walkable neighbourhood. Cycling is icing on the cake.

    I agree, initially it FEELS like a hard choice. But after awhile, one doesn’t think about it much anymore.

    1. Hi Jean– thanks for your comments. Wow, that takes some commitment, but I agree that it has many benefits, both short- and long-term.
      When I said I wasn’t advocating active commuting as a weight-loss tool, what I meant was I don’t think that people should necessarily do this in order to lose weight. Studies suggest that active commuting may result in only minimal weight loss (of course you are clearly an outlier here, which sounds like it’s been good for your health). But it has all sorts of other benefits that increased physical activity confers. I didn’t even mention lowered stress levels, which also can be a big boost to well-being.
      I’ll report back next year on how my public transport commuting transition back home is going.

  2. To listen to you guys I’m led to believe you’re old farts, around my age of a ripe old 75. Ya think it hurts now, wait until you get to that age. Whew! Believe me, EVERYTHING HURTS! Above all, my pride. C’est la vie. As my website is so aptly named, “takethebadwiththelousy.com”

    I like your website. Keep pluggin’ away…


  3. Hi Bill– at every age, being physically active has its challenges. We’ve had some bloggers in their 70s posting about their ups and downs, and I agree that it helps to share our experiences, so we know it’s not us, it’s just life.

  4. I had a 90-mi round-trip commute for about a year, and it made me deeply miserable – a real one-two punch of fatiguing in itself and leeching away the motivation I’d need to exercise before or after work. Since then, I’ve gone out of my way to stick with work sites that enable me to walk or bike regularly. Regular exercise is an important mood regulator for me, and I learned that year that I’d rather be underemployed than have a heavy commute, even if it’s on transit.

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