For most, commuting to and from work is a time suck and little more. But a new study, published in the British Medical Journal Wednesday, suggests how you trek to work daily could make an active difference in adding time to your life.
The study, which spanned 5 years and more than 260,000 British commuters, looked at their risk of heart problems or cancer depending on how they got to work. The results, even when controlled for related factors like smoking, weight and diet, showed that cycling could slash riders’ risk of cancer or heart disease almost in half.
Cyclists, the University of Glasgow researchers found, were 41 percent less likely to die from any cause than their counterparts who didn’t exert active effort on their commute. Those who took public transportation, for example, were more likely to suffer heart attacks or be diagnosed with cancer during the study.
Even those who rode a bike only a portion of their commute still saw benefits, though not as pronounced, Time Magazine reported. Those bikers had a 24 percent lower risk compared to those who didn’t bike or walk at all during their commute. Walkers had a comparable level of risk — those who traveled by foot had a 27 percent lower risk of heart attacks, according to the study.
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Part of the difference between bikers and walkers had to do with the distance they travelled, researcher Jason Gill told Time. Bikers were inherently more likely to cycle longer distances since they were traveling from further away, and the study found that bikers traveled 30 miles a week on average, compared to the six miles that walkers averaged, he said.
“This is really clear evidence that people who commute in an active way, particularly by cycling, were at lower risk,” Gill told the BBC.
The finding isn’t exactly surprising — more physical activity has been long been linked to healthier lives, particularly when it comes to heart health. But the study reminds readers that even the dead time taken up by a work commute can be used to improve your health, researchers said.
“What these results suggest is that active commuting is a possibility for a much wider range of people than those who live within a narrow circumference of where they work,” Gill told Time. “If we can change cities so that it’s easier for people be more active, then people will be.”