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Cycling to work could ‘cut risk of premature death by 40%’

Thursday 20th April 2017

A new study of more than 250,000 UK commuters aged 40-69 years has found that cycling to work can halve the risk of developing cancer and heart disease.

Published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) today (20 April), the five-year University of Glasgow study compared those who had an ‘active’ commute with those who were mostly stationary on their journey to work.

The study found that cycling to work cut the risk of death from any cause by 41%, and the risk of developing either cancer or heart disease by 45% and 46% respectively.

The results of the study, described as the largest of its kind, also show that walking cut the odds of developing heart disease by 27%, although the benefit was mostly for people walking more than six miles per week.

Undertaken by researchers from the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences and Institute of Health and Wellbeing, the study analysed data from 264,337 participants from UK Biobank, who were asked questions about their usual mode of commuting to work and then followed up for five years.

During that period, 2,430 of those studied died, 3,748 were diagnosed with cancer and 1,110 had heart problems.

The researchers say the findings suggest that policies designed to make it easier for people to commute by bike may present major opportunities for public health improvement.

Dr Jason Gill, from the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences, said: “Cycling all or part of the way to work was associated with substantially lower risk of adverse health outcomes. Those who cycled the full length of their commute had an over 40% lower risk of heart disease, cancer and overall mortality over the five years of follow-up.

“If these associations are causal, these findings suggest that policies designed to make it easier for people to commute by bike, such as cycle lanes, city bike hire, subsidised cycle purchase schemes and increasing provision for cycles on public transport may present major opportunities for public health improvement.”

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Nick, “could” does not mean “will” and “associated with” does not mean “caused”. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Correlation_does_not_imply_causation

So (with my emphasis using “*”), when the study states that it found that “cycling to work is *associated* with a 45% lower risk of developing cancer and a 46% lower risk of heart disease, compared to a non-active commute” and “that commuters who cycled were *associated* with a 41% lower risk of premature death”, it does not mean that “cycling to work *cut* the risk of death from any cause by 41%, and the risk of developing either cancer or heart disease by 45% and 46% respectively.” Neither does “[w]alking to work was *associated* with 27% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease” mean “walking *cut* the odds of developing heart disease by 27%”.
Charles, England

Agree (7) | Disagree (7)
0

I think that what we don't need is the plethora of pontification of pointless propaganda telling us lies or untruths or misleading us for a purpose. Yes I think that we would all agree that cycling and walking will do us more good than being strapped into a car all day but for many that's not for all day. For many it's only twice a day taking the kids to school and back home again at tea time. Plus one trip to the supermarket for a weekly shop. Others commute many miles twice daily and they consider it less stressfull than taking a train or bus. It is probably extremely economical as well. So many are happy in a situation that is the car for transport and to be forced out of it would create a greater burden upon their lives. On the other hand if work is local then a walk or a cycle is less of a problem just like our ancestors used to do when we worked in the mills or down the coalface. They didn't have to travel many miles to work, it was basically just around the corner. But those days have gone in the main and we remain with the car as being the preferred form of transport considered by many as being far better than many others.
m.worthington Manchester

Agree (4) | Disagree (2)
+2

No doubt another study could equally demonstrate the opposite - due to supposedly almost lethal levels of pollution in cities that cyclists would be exposed to.

Cycling on quiet roads in the countryside on the other hand is I've found, good for the mind and the body and to be encouraged, whereas driving in an air-conditioned, insulated, quiet car would be the preferred option for me for the city.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (8) | Disagree (5)
+3

I have now read the full report. Playing devil's advocate does this mean the unemployed are condemned to a shorter life expectancy? For my commute of over 80 miles this suggests a 40% lower risk of heart disease. How higher will my risk of heart attack be?

Their suggested findings of making it easier to commute by cycle or walking is laudable but should not be confined to the commuter. Increasing activity whether, for the commute or leisure, will benefit public health but we must not be blinkered into only addressing the commuters infrastructure and wants. We need to open up our public parks and open spaces for anyone to be more active. Perhaps the next research should be about opportunities for people of all ages to be more active with play streets, less regulation in our local parks and gardens, access to cycles and sports equipment at reasonable rates or free. Allowing children to cycle in local parks must be cheaper than building a cycle path or creating a cycle hire scheme. I'll still commute by train but my walk to and from the station adds up over the week to about 12 mile in total.
Peter Wilson City of Westminster

Agree (4) | Disagree (0)
+4

Sorry, but I think RSGB is misreporting this study. The study does not claim to prove a causal relationship, just an association, between active commuting and lack of various diseases. To say the "study found that cycling to work cut the risk of death from any cause by 41%, and the risk of developing either cancer or heart disease by 45% and 46% respectively" is, IMHO, an incorrect interpretation. It could be that something else, the thing that makes some people choose to cycle or walk is the same thing that makes them less prone to these diseases. Proof of a causal relationship was not made, or claimed, in the report.
Charles, England

Agree (8) | Disagree (4)
+4

I drive to work but walk the dog later.

"If my dog-walking association is causal (to my improved health by cutting the odds of developing heart disease), this could suggest that policies designed to make it easier for people to own and walk dogs may present major opportunities for public health improvement".

Both statements are examples of tunnel vision by choosing to selectively link cause-to-effect regardless of other lifestyle factors.
Pat, Wales

Agree (10) | Disagree (3)
+7

Charles

The University of Glasgow press release announcing the research says:

"Using your bike to get to work could cut your risk of developing cancer and heart disease by almost half.

"New research by the University of Glasgow and published today in the BMJ, has found that cycling to work is associated with a 45% lower risk of developing cancer and a 46% lower risk of heart disease, compared to a non-active commute.

"Overall the study found that commuters who cycled were associated with a 41% lower risk of premature death."

Here's the link to the release:
http://www.gla.ac.uk/news/headline_522765_en.html

I'm not sure why you feel we have misreported the study?
Nick Rawlings, editor, Road Safety News

Agree (13) | Disagree (6)
+7

What a sad bunch we are. The study set out to quantify what we all realise might be the case - that taking some exercise would be beneficial to our health. We are arguing over how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, and we look daft. Who cares whether it is 40%, or 50%? It is all pretty meaningless anyway when there are so many other factors influencing whether I get cancer, or suffer a heart attack. The important bit is that the risk is lower.
David, Suffolk

Agree (7) | Disagree (0)
+7

I think that we should all take these assertions or assumptions with a pinch of salt. Its not just the cycling or walking that would or could cause such a massive beneficial change in our nations health. It's many other matters that one has to consider and change. Things like eating less sugars, of not smoking or using drugs or consuming excessive amounts of alcohol to name but a few others. It would have to be a complete change in ones own personal habits taken as a whole that would or could give these mentioned degrees of beneficial change. Once again the facts have been manipulated to be used for the purposes of supporting propaganda.
Bob Craven Lancs

Agree (9) | Disagree (1)
+8