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Cycling to work is linked to lower rates of cancer and heart disease

Study shows that people who cycled to work had the most reduced risk of dying, developing cancer or cardiovascular disease.

There is a lot of focus on various aspects of our lifestyle and how doing certain things (such as exercise and eating healthily) and not doing other things (such as smoking or being overweight) can influence our health in a positive way.

One recent study collected information over three years from 500,000 adults aged 40 to 69 and asked them how they got to work. The options were by car/motor vehicle, walking, cycling or by public transport. (It could also be a mixture of these). The researchers also gathered information about other aspects of the research participants’ lives, such as their eating habits, smoking status, body mass index (BMI) as well as factors about their living conditions and what they did in their leisure time.

The researchers did a follow-up investigation after five years to see how the research participants were doing. They found that 2,430 people had died since they had taken part in the study, 1,110 people had developed cardiovascular disease (conditions affecting the heart and the blood vessels) and 3,748 people had been diagnosed with cancer. They compared these people to the rest of the group by looking at how they got to work plus the other factors that they had recorded about their lives.

When the researchers compared the groups of people in the study, they found that those who cycled to work came out best as they had the most reduced risk of dying, developing cancer or cardiovascular disease. People who cycled but combined that with using another types of transport such as train or bus, had a lower risk of developing cancer and dying from cancer but they didn’t have a lower risk of dying from or developing cardiovascular disease. Those who walked to work had a lower risk of developing and dying from cardiovascular disease but the researchers didn’t find a reduced risk of them developing cancer.

This type of study – collecting information from a group of people over time – is called an observational study where we can observe and record what happens to people. This type of study can reveal links/associations between factors but it can’t prove that one factor is the cause of another factor. So, in this instance, the study can’t prove for sure that cycling to work is the reason why that group of people had a lower risk of dying and developing cancer and cardiovascular disease. But together with other research we have in this field, it increases the reliability of the links that were found in the study.

We do have sufficient evidence to say that an active lifestyle is good for our health and cycling to work seems to be one way of fitting activity into what can often be a busy life with little time for other dedicated exercise. This research was done in an adult group of people but cycling can of course be a good way for younger people to get some recommended exercise too.

You can read more about this study on NHS Choices website.

This article was first published : 8.5.2017

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