There are plenty of reasons why cycling is an excellent way to stay on top of your fitness goals. But if you still need some convincing to hop in the saddle, a recent study suggests that biking to work could help you live longer while reducing your risk of cancer and heart disease by nearly half—yes, half.
Researchers at the University of Glasgow looked at the commutes of 264,000 people in the U.K., more than half of whom were women, to see how they got to work on a typical day—biking, walking, a mix of both, or less active modes such as driving or using public transportation. The goal of the study, published in the British Medical Journal, was to show what kind of impact active traveling had on commuters.
During a five-year follow-up, researchers assessed new cases of cancer, heart attack, and death among the commuters and found that people who cycled to work lived longer and they reduced their chances of getting cancer by 45 percent and heart disease by 46 percent. Cyclists who fell into this category clocked an average of 30 miles per week, but it's not clear whether the results would hold true at shorter distances.
People who walked to work also had a lower risk of developing heart disease, but no notable change was seen in cancer risk or overall mortality.
We already know that as many as half of all types of cancer can be prevented through proper diet and regular exercise, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Not to mention that nearly half of the heart disease in the U.S. is caused by physical inactivity, poor diet, and weight problems. So the overall health benefits of an active commute aren't super surprising.
Researchers also cautioned that the results are strictly observational, meaning it's not possible to say that a cycling commute alone is the cause for this decreased risk of disease and mortality. And while walking will obviously be better for you than a sedentary commute, such as driving or riding the train, in this study, walking alone didn't have as big an impact as cycling on overall health and disease risk.
"The findings from this study are a clear call for political action on active commuting, which has the potential to improve public health by preventing common (and costly) noncommunicable diseases," said Lars Bo Andersen, a professor at Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, in an editorial published alongside the study. He wrote, "A shift from car to more active modes of travel will also decrease traffic in congested city centers and help reduce air pollution, with further benefits for health."
Sounds like it's time to leave the SUV parked in the garage next week and trade it in for your Schwinn.