Walking and cycling to work is associated with fewer heart attacks in adults, say researchers, adding that could provide important health benefits.
According to the study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, in areas where walking or cycling to work were more common in 2011, the incidence of heart attacks in UK decreased for both men and women across the following two years.
“Our study at the University of Leeds shows that exercise as a means of commuting to work is associated with lower levels of heart attack. The benefits of regular exercise are numerous and we support initiatives to help everyone become and stay active,” said study co-author and Olympic-medal winning triathlete Alistair Brownlee.
The study looked at the 2011 UK Census data, which included 43 million people aged 25-74 years employed in England, and found that 11.4 per cent were active commuters. Walking was more popular than cycling (8.6 per cent vs. 2.8 per cent).
Active commuting was defined as people who reported their main mode of transport to work as either ‘bicycle’ or ‘on foot’ in the UK Census.
Rates of active travel varied significantly between local authorities across England, with as few as five per cent of people walking or cycling to work in some authorities, compared to as many as 41.6 per cent in other areas.
There was also a sex difference for active travel in the 2011 Census data, with more men cycling to work than women (3.8 per cent vs. 1.7 per cent), but more women walking to work than men (11.7 per cent vs. 6.0 per cent).
The researchers acknowledged that the big risk factors for heart disease are a lack of exercise, being overweight, smoking and diabetes.
After adjusting for these, the researchers found that active commuting was linked with additional health benefits in some cases.
For women who walked to work there was an associated 1.7 per cent reduction in heart attacks the following year. For men who cycled to work there was also an associated 1.7 per cent reduction in heart attacks the following year, the study said.
“Whilst we cannot conclusively say that active travel to work lowers the risk of heart attack, the study is indicative of such a relationship,” said study lead author Chris Gale, Professor at the University of Leeds.
“The effect of active commuting is fairly modest when compared with the stronger determinants of cardiovascular health such as smoking, obesity, diabetes, and regular exercise. However, this study clearly suggests that exercising on the way to work has the potential to bring nationwide improvements to health and wellbeing,” Gale said.