An international insurance company has crowned Wellington as "New Zealand's fittest city" based on its transport system and clean air.

AIA, originally known as American International Assurance, says Wellingtonians walk more and take more trips by public transport than people in five other NZ cities.

Christchurch topped the list for cycling, and Auckland surprisingly had the fewest transport-related deaths for every 100,000 residents.

"While Wellington was crowned the fittest due to the highest levels of physical activity for transport rather than just recreation, Christchurch had the highest number of annual cycle trips," the company said.

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The rankings, being launched in Auckland today, are taken from a public health study last year which found that 203 lives would be saved every year if people in the other five big cities had the same transport patterns and air pollution levels as Wellington.

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Auckland University public health professor Alistair Woodward, one of the study's authors, said the study was focused on transport patterns and had no data on people's actual fitness levels in each city.

"All we were talking about was the amount of walking and cycling and transport use," he said.

"You can deduce from that that people who are more active are likely to be fitter, but of course we didn't take account of anything else that people were doing."

Professor Alistair Woodward (above) says biking or walking to work, or even walking to the bus or train, helps people live longer. Photo / File
Professor Alistair Woodward (above) says biking or walking to work, or even walking to the bus or train, helps people live longer. Photo / File

But he said transport patterns did have a substantial effect on whether adults met the World Health Organisation guideline of doing at least 150 minutes a week, or 30 minutes every working day, of physical activity of at least "moderate intensity" such as walking and cycling.

More than a quarter (27.5 per cent) of all trips made by Wellington City residents between 2008 and 2014 were walking trips, well ahead of Auckland (16 per cent) and lowest-ranked Hamilton (13.8 per cent).

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Public transport was much less popular but Wellington again topped the list with 6.2 per cent of all trips being made by public transport, ahead of Auckland and Christchurch (both 3.3 per cent).

Cycling was even less popular. Christchurch was first, making 3.1 per cent of its trips by bike, ahead of Tauranga (2.1 per cent). Auckland was last, with only 0.5 per cent of trips made by bike.

Another measure of households with two or more vehicles ranked Wellington best, with 36 per cent of homes having at least two vehicles, and Auckland worst, with 55 per cent.

Wellington also had the lowest level of particulate matter in its air and the lowest light vehicle carbon dioxide emissions for every 100,000 people, reflecting its high use of public transport and walking.

But Auckland's 146 transport-related deaths in a 2013 study worked out at only 9.78 deaths for every 100,000 people, the lowest of the six cities. The highest transport-related death rate was in Dunedin, with 10.52 deaths for every 100,000 people.