Commuters who cycle to work might be cutting their risk of developing heart disease and cancer nearly in half, new research published in the British Medical Journal suggests.
For the study, researchers tracked the health of more than 250,000 commuters in the U.K. over the course of five years and compared people who had an "active" commute with those who used public transport or a car. They found that 2,430 of those studied died, 3,748 were diagnosed with cancer, and 1,110 had heart problems. But they also found that cycling an average of 30 miles a week cut participants' risk of death by 41 percent, risk of cancer by 45 percent, and risk of heart disease by 46 percent.
"Cycling all or part of the way to work was associated with substantially lower risk of adverse health outcomes," study co-author Jason Gill, PhD, from the Glasgow Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences, said in a press release. "Those who cycled the full length of their commute had an over 40 percent lower risk of heart disease, cancer, and overall mortality over the five years of follow-up."
Although walking to work was also found to be good for health, this only applied to those who walked more than six miles a week and did not appear to be as beneficial as cycling.
"This may be because walkers commuted shorter distances than cyclists — typically six miles per week, compared with 30 miles per week — and walking is generally a lower-intensity exercise than cycling," researcher Carlos Celis-Morales, PhD, explained.
"This is really clear evidence that people who commute in an active way, particularly by cycling, were at lower risk," he said. "You need to get to work every day, so if you built cycling into the day, it essentially takes willpower out of the equation."
However, Dr. Gill added that changes need to be made to make cyclists feel safer.
"What we really need to do is change our infrastructure to make it easier to cycle," he said. "We need bike lanes, to make it easier to put bikes on trains, showers at work."