Walking or cycling to work linked to lower risk of early death

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In a new study, researchers found that people who walk, cycle, and travel by train to work are at reduced risk of early death or illness compared with those who commute by car.

These are the findings of a study of over 300,000 commuters in England and Wales.

The research was conducted by a team from Imperial College London and the University of Cambridge.

The researchers say the findings suggest increased walking and cycling post-lockdown may reduce deaths from heart disease and cancer.

The study used Census data to track the same people for up to 25 years, between 1991-2016.

The team found that, compared with those who drove, those who cycled to work had a 20% reduced rate of early death, 24% reduced rate of death from cardiovascular disease (which includes heart attack and stroke) during the study period, a 16% reduced rate of death from cancer, and an 11% reduced rate of a cancer diagnosis.

Walking to work was linked to a 7% reduced rate in cancer diagnosis, compared to driving.

The team explains that associations between walking and other outcomes, such as rates of death from cancer and heart disease, were less certain.

One potential reason for this is people who walk to work are, on average, in less affluent occupations than people who drive to work, and more likely to have underlying health conditions that could not be fully accounted for.

The study also revealed that compared with those who drove to work, rail commuters had a 10% reduced rate of early death, a 20% reduced rate of death from cardiovascular disease, and a 12% reduced rate of a cancer diagnosis.

This is likely due to them walking or cycling to transit points, although rail commuters also tend to be more affluent and less likely to have other underlying conditions say the team.

The team says as large numbers of people begin to return to work as the COVID-19 lockdown eases, it is a good time for everyone to rethink their transport choices.

With severe and prolonged limits in public transport capacity likely, switching to private car use would be disastrous for our health and the environment.

Encouraging more people to walk and cycle will help limit the longer-term consequences of the pandemic.

The lead author of the study is Dr. Richard Patterson from the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge.

The study is published in The Lancet Planetary Health.

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