Cycling and walking to work linked to lower levels of body fat

Using public transport was shown to be more beneficial than driving 

Kashmira Gander
Monday 28 March 2016 12:26 BST
Cyclists need to utilise the cycle paths that have been provided for them
Cyclists need to utilise the cycle paths that have been provided for them (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Cycling and walking to work have been linked to lower levels of body fat in the largest ever study into the health benefits of active commuting.

Those who only commuted by car had the highest percentage of body fat and body mass index (BMI), researchers found.

The findings suggested that even the small levels of physical activity involved in taking public transport could positively impact a person’s health.

The study carried out at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine used data from over 150,000 individuals taken from the UK Biobank data set: an observational study of around half a million people aged between 40 to 60-years-old in the UK.

The data showed that men who cycled to work were 5kg (11lbs) lighter than those who drove, while the difference in women was 4.4kg (9.7lbs).

Researchers found that the further a person walked or cycled, the lower their percentage of body fat.

Lower rates of body fat linked to commuting were independent of other factors such as income, whether a person lived in a rural or urban area, as well as how much alcohol they consumed, their general level of physical activity or if they smoked.

Lead author Dr Ellen Flint, Lecturer in Population Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who lead the study published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology, highlighted that two thirds of adults in England do not meet the recommended levels of physical activity.

“Compared with commuting by car, we found that 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 socioeconomic 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."

She added that using public transport or active commuting, particularly in mid-life, could “be an important part of the global policy response to population-level obesity prevention.”

Dr Lars Bo Andersen of Sogn and Fjordane University College in Norway, who wrote a commentary on the study, told Reuters: "The average person gains 1-2 pounds each year after the age of 30 years. This trend will be prevented by simple things such as choosing the active travel, small changes in nutrition".

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