Cycling to work cuts cancer and heart disease risk by nearly 50%

Go buy yourself a bicycle. Now.
(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

Science says don't sweat the gym so much. Focus on getting yourself to work sans motor vehicle instead.

A study examining the habits of 250,000 UK commuters has linked significant drops in cancer and heart disease with two-wheel travel. How significant? The study, published in the British Medical Journal, says bicycle commuters are nearly half as likely to die from cancer or heart disease than those that hop into a car, train or bus to get to work. We've been right this whole time, those commutes are murder. 

During the course of the five-year study, which compared "active" commuters with the large majority of more stationary ones, subjects who cycled regularly enjoyed a 45% decrease in cancer risk and 46% decrease in heart disease. In fact, risk of death of any kind dropped 41% when bikes were a main mode of transport. 

What's more, an active commute seemed to leverage self-discipline. You don't have to get to the gym (unless washboard abs are a necessity for you), but work for most is non-negotiable. Researchers noted that the upside of our dependence on a reasonable livelihood was that once activity like bike travel was baked into a work routine, willpower was moot. Whether you want to or not, you've gotta pedal yourself to work.

If you don't have a bike yet, note that walking was also beneficial but only when commuters hoofed it for at least 6 miles a day (that's about 10 klicks, if you're metric). Subjects who cycle-commuted got in about 30 miles (48 km) a day and the more they cycled, the healthier they were. But even those who combined active commuting with stationary travel saw benefits. So, misplacing your bus pass or car keys two to three times a week is worth your while. 

Although the precise biological cause and effect is still not clear, Dr Jason Gill, from the University of Glasgow, says the study provides "really clear evidence that people who commute in an active way, particularly by cycling, were at lower risk".

One theory for the correlation is that cyclists tend to be far leaner, but that's not the only factor. Another is that active people simply suffer less inflammation in the body. Both are supremely beneficial for health and longevity.   

Clare Hyde from Cancer Research UK says "building activity into your everyday life" is key. "You don't need to join a gym or run the marathon." Noted. She says "anything that gets you a bit hot and out of breath … can help make a difference." An eye-raising turn of phrase but she was still talking about things like biking to work and even house work, although the benefits of sex are numerous.

Either way, get active, daily. It's good for your bod.