Commuters can make a significant difference to their weight and health by leaving the car at home, according to new research.
A study of more than 150,000 British individuals aged 40 to 69 found that those who walk, cycle, or even take public transport to work have less body fat and a lower body mass index than motorists.
The greatest gains were seen in cyclists. For the average man aged 53, cycling to work instead of driving was associated with a weight difference of five kilograms.
Men in their 50s who cycle to work are the biggest winners, according to the data. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto
The average 52-year-old woman cyclist was 4.4 kilograms better off than her car-driving counterpart.
BMI, a measure that relates weight and height, was 1.71 kg/m2 lower for men who cycled and 1.65 kg/m2 lower for women.
Cycling and walking also reduced the body fat of men and women, by 2.75 per cent and 3.26 per cent respectively.
Lead scientist Dr Ellen Flint, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “We found that, compared with commuting by car, public transport, walking and cycling or a mix of all three are associated with reductions in body mass and body fat percentage, even when accounting for demographic and socio-economic factors.
“Many people live too far from their workplace for walking or cycling to be feasible, but even the incidental physical activity involved in public transport can have an important effect.”
Findings from the study, funded by the Medical Research Council, appear in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal.
An estimated 23.7 million people in England and Wales regularly commute to work and 67 per cent travel by car.
Among the study participants, 64 per cent of men and 61 per cent of women drove to work, while 4 per cent of men and 2 per cent of women cycled or combined cycling and walking.
The scientists analysed data stored on the UK Biobank, which holds health-related information on 500,000 anonymous individuals.
In a linked comment published by the journal, Dr Lars Bo Andersen, from Sogndal and Fjordane University College in Norway, said: “The finding of a positive effect from active commuting is important, because commuting to work is an everyday activity that lots of working people need to do.
“Physical activity during commuting has health benefits even if its intensity is moderate and the commuting does not cause high heart rate and sweating.”