A new Scottish study published in the British Medical Journal suggests getting active on your way to and from work could be linked to a substantial decrease in your chances of developing or dying from cancer and cardiovascular disease (CVD), when compared with taking the car or public transport.
The study involved more than a quarter of a million participants (average age 53 years) recruited from the UK Biobank - a database of biological information from half a million British adults.
Participants were asked to record the types of transport they used to get to and from work on a typical day. Options included walking, cycling and non-active (car or public transport). During an average five year follow-up period, information on hospital admissions and deaths were recorded.
After adjusting for several influential factors, commuting by walking was associated with a lower risk of CVD incidence and mortality. However, commuting by cycling was associated with the lowest risk of these - as well as lower risks of all cause mortality and cancer.
While the study is UK based, it should still be considered by New Zealand readers - as Heart Disease is New Zealand's biggest killer. More than 6,000 people die from heart disease in New Zealand every year. This figure is almost 20 times the 2016 road toll. For more, see here.
Walking is also associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, but the risk of death from cancer was no different than non-active commuting, the results show.
The study came about after researchers at the University of Glasgow set to test the strength of association between cycling, walking and health benefits. They tested this by investigating the association between active commuting and incident CVD, cancer, and all cause mortality.
Mixed-mode commuting (a combination of active and non-active transport) was also associated with some benefits, but only if the active component comprised cycling.
Furthermore, a lower risk for CVD incidence was only evident among the walking commuters who covered more than six miles a week (equivalent to two hours of weekly commuting by walking at a typical pace of three miles an hour).
The researchers point out that this is an observational study, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, and they outline some limitations could have introduced bias.
Nevertheless, they conclude that “the findings, if causal, suggest population health may be improved by policies that increase active commuting, particularly cycling, such as the creation of cycle lanes, cycle hire or purchase schemes, and better provision for cycles on public transport."