Your daily commute to work could save your life—provided you give up the train and car for walking or cycling, that is. A more active way to get to the office can reduce your chances of heart disease or a fatal heart attack, or even getting cancer.
The reduction in risk depends on how long you've been walking or cycling, and the distance you cover each day. Not surprisingly, the longer the journey, the lower your chances of getting one of those diseases. Walking, for instance, seems to have a big impact on health and longevity, but only for someone who covers more than six miles a week.
To determine the impact of 'active commuting', a team of researchers from Glasgow University looked at the lifestyles and health of 263,450 people, with an average age of 52 years, who were in paid employment and actively commuting every day.1
After adjusting for habits like smoking and other physical activities like going to the gym, the researchers were able to focus on just the effect of active commuting on mortality, heart disease, heart-related deaths and cancer.
The results varied across all active commuters, but cyclists seemed to have the biggest risk reduction, possibly because it's a more intense form of exercise, and the reduction in risk was across all disease groups too—heart disease, cancer and all-cause mortality. Walkers had a lower risk of heart disease and mortality, but the biggest impact was among those who walked the most—and at least six miles a week.
Strangely, those who mixed walking and cycling on their commute didn't enjoy the same protective effects.