Walking or cycling to work cuts risk of premature death, illness

May 21, 2020
Biking

PEOPLE who walk, cycle and travel by train to work are at reduced risk of early death or illness compared with those who commute by car.

During this pandemic where social distancing is a-must safety protocol, walking and cycling post-lockdown may reduce deaths from heart disease and cancer.

The study found that, compared with those who drove, those who cycled to work had a 20 per cent reduced rate of early death, 24 per cent reduced rate of death from cardiovascular disease (which includes heart attack and stroke) during the study period, a 16 per cent reduced rate of death from cancer, and an 11 per cent reduced rate of a cancer diagnosis.

Walking to work was associated with a 7 per cent reduced rate in cancer diagnosis, compared to driving. The team explain that associations between walking and other outcomes, such as rates of death from cancer and heart disease, were less certain. One potential reason for this is people who walk to work are, on average, in less affluent occupations than people who drive to work, and more likely to have underlying health conditions which could not be fully accounted for.

Compared with those who drove to work, rail commuters had a 10 per cent reduced rate of early death, a 20 per cent reduced rate of death from cardiovascular disease, and a 12 per cent reduced rate of cancer diagnosis. This is likely due to them walking or cycling to transit points, although rail commuters also tend to be more affluent and less likely to have other underlying conditions, say the team.

Dr. Richard Patterson from the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge who led the research said: "As large numbers of people begin to return to work as the COVID-19 lockdown eases, it is a good time for everyone to rethink their transport choices. With severe and prolonged limits in public transport capacity likely, switching to private car use would be disastrous for our health and the environment. Encouraging more people to walk and cycle will help limit the longer-term consequences of the pandemic."

The study also assessed whether the benefits of each mode of travel differed between occupational groups and found that potential health benefits were similar across these groups.

Patterson’s team added that the benefits of cycling and walking are well-documented. The research was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) School for Public Health Research. (Imperial College London/ScienceDaily)