"Physical inactivity is one of the leading causes of ill health and premature mortality," said study author Ellen Flint. She's a lecturer in population health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine in England.
The study, published March 16 in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, included information from more than 150,000 people between the ages of 40 and 69 in the United Kingdom. Two-thirds of them drove to work each day, researchers said.
For example, a 53-year-old man who cycled to work weighed 11 pounds less, the study showed. Cycling to work also resulted in a 1.7 drop in body mass index (BMI — an estimate of body fat based on weight and height) compared to someone who drove to work.
A 52-year-old woman who cycled to work weighed nearly 10 pounds less than a woman who drove to work. The woman cyclist would also have a 1.65 lower BMI score than a driver, the study showed.
Even taking public transportation made a difference, the study authors found. Men who used public transit had a 0.7 lower BMI than those who drove, as did those who combined public transit with walking or cycling to get to work (lower BMI of 1 for men and 0.7 lower BMI for women).
"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," Flint said in a journal news release.
"Many people are not attracted to recreational sports or other leisure-time physical activities, which are proven to benefit health, and active transport might therefore be an important and easy choice to increase physical activity and the proportion of people achieving recommended levels of physical activity," Andersen noted.