A prospective cohort study, published in the British Medical Journal, reports that active commuting, particularly cycling, can significantly reduce the risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, and cancers.
Modern societies are plagued with sedentary lifestyles, unhealthy eating habits, and physical inactivity, which collectively contribute to higher risk of disease and decrease the quality of life. A decline in active commuting, defined as walking or cycling to work, is one of the many factors that have contributed to reduced physical activity. Previous studies, including a meta-analysis of 173,146 participants, have reported that non-active commuters are at a higher risk of mortality, cardiovascular disease, and cancers. These studies, however, are incomplete due to a limited range of endpoints investigated, small sample sizes, and inconsistent adjustments for confounding factors. A recent study, published in the British Medical Journal, investigated the association between the different modes of active commuting and incidence of cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer, and all-cause mortality.
The current study recruited a total of 263,540 participants from the UK Biobank; a large, prospective, population based cohort study. Questionnaires were used to determine each participant’s mode of commute to work. The main outcomes investigated include deaths from any cause, CVD, and cancer, as well as any other fatal or non-fatal CVD or cancer incident. Conclusions were drawn after accounting for confounding factors including sex, age, deprivation, ethnicity, smoking status, recreational and occupational physical activity, sedentary behaviour, dietary patterns, and other factors.
The authors reported that commuting by cycling was associated with the lowest risk of mortality, CVD, and cancer, compared to non-active commuters. In contrast, participants that commuted by walking did not have a lower risk of all-cause mortality and cancer incidents. Walking was, however, associated with a reduction in the risk of cardiovascular complications. In mixed commuters, those with a cycling component had lower risks of mortality, and cancer related complications. Mixed commuters with a walking component had no reduction in risk of mortality, cardiovascular disease, and cancers.
In conclusion, the authors demonstrate that active commuting, particularly by cycling, can yield significant health benefits by reducing the risk of all-cause mortality, as well as cardiovascular and cancer-related morbidities. The study suggests that encouraging more active modes of commuting can result in a healthier population. This can be achieved by creating more cycle lanes, implementing cycle hire or purchase schemes, and having better provisions for cycles on public roads.
Written By: Haisam Shah, BSc