Well, bike commuters, you’ve got something else to be smug about: A new study by researchers at the University of Glasgow published in The BMJ examines potential overlaps between those who active commute and incidents of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and causal mortality.
“We looked into this topic due to the higher prevalence of physical inactivity worldwide,” says Carlos Celis-Morales, a research associate on the study. “However, a potential answer to this problem is cycle or walk to work. The big majority of the working population commute to work every day, so switching from a non-active commute (car or bus) to an active form of commute (walk or cycle) could be a feasible way of achieving the physical activity guidelines.”
For the study, the researchers had more than 260,000 United Kingdom participants fill out a questionnaire to say whether they had a non-active, walk, cycling, or mixed-mode commute to work. In a follow-up about five years later, the researchers checked National Health Service Information Centre records to see how many of those participants had died and from what causes. In the follow-up, the researchers found that 2,430 participants had died of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
The researchers used a statistical model that took into account other factors that could have come into play, such as sociodemographics, body mass index, activity level, smoking, diet, and pre-existing conditions. Ultimately, they found that bike commuters in their study had a 41 percent lower risk of dying than those who commuted by car or public transportation. More specifically, cyclists were 52 percent less likely to die of cardiovascular disease and 40 percent less likely to die of cancer. The study also found that those who walk to work had a lowered risk of dying, and mixed mode commuting also had health benefits—but only if the non-passive part of the commute was completed via bike.
Of course, you have to be careful with any study that suggests a causal link when there are so many variables in play. The conclusion of the study states that, “The findings, if causal, suggest population health may be improved by policies that increase active commuting, particularly cycling, such as the creation of cycle lanes, cycle hire or purchase schemes, and better provision for cycles on public transport.” The “if causal” part of that statement is crucial for interpreting the study. Though the researchers found that there was an association between cycling and lowered risk of death, it doesn’t mean that riding a bike to work everyday can save us from cancer.