British Study Finds Commuting by Bike Can Cut Heart Disease and Cancer

CC BY 2.0. Lloyd Alter/ commuting in Copenhagen

A big British study, recently published, tracked a over a quarter of a million British commuters over five years and found significant reductions in deaths from Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) and found that deaths from cancer were halved. The summary, published in the BMJ:

Cycle commuting was associated with a lower risk of CVD, cancer, and all cause mortality. Walking commuting was associated with a lower risk of CVD independent of major measured confounding factors. Initiatives to encourage and support active commuting could reduce risk of death and the burden of important chronic conditions.

In other words, governments and citizens should be doing everything that they can to get more people out of cars and on to bikes. The lead researcher, Dr. Jason Gill from the University of Glasgow, told the BBC:

This is really clear evidence that people who commute in an active way, particularly by cycling, were at lower risk. You need to get to work every day so if you built cycling into the day it essentially takes willpower out of the equation. What we really need to do is change our infrastructure to make it easier to cycle - we need bike lanes, to make it easier to put bikes on trains, showers at work.
Hazard ratio for all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease (CVD) incidence and mortality, and cancer incidence and mortality by commuting mode

© Hazard ratio for all cause mortality

The graph shows the association between commuting mode and outcomes; the non-active base reference at the top represents commuters in cars. Those who cycled all the way to work had the best outcomes generally, although people who walked to work had significantly reduced heart disease.

The cancer reductions are calculated after adjusting for diet, smoking and body mass index, but the study notes that “the risk reductions associated with active commuting are likely to be related to their contribution to overall daily physical activity, and potentially to cardiorespiratory fitness, for which the associations with lower mortality, CVD incidence, and cancer incidence are well established” The study’s key findings and recommendations:

  • Commuting by cycling was associated with a lower risk of all cause mortality and adverse CVD and cancer outcomes, and walking commuting was associated with lower risk of CVD incidence and mortality, in a dose dependent manner and independent of a range of confounding factors
  • Mixed mode commuting including a cycle component was associated with a lower risk of all cause mortality and cancer outcomes
  • Policies designed to affect a population level modal shift to more active modes of commuting, particularly by cycle (eg, cycle lanes, city bike hire, subsidised cycle purchase schemes, and increasing provision for cycles on public transport) may present major opportunities for the improvement of public health
  • .

This is precisely why we go on the need for safe bike infrastructure, and why we need to stop scaring people off bikes. Because “the findings suggest population health may be improved by policies that increase active commuting, particularly cycling, such as the creation of cycle lanes, cycle hire or purchase schemes, and better provision for cycles on public transport.”