Walking or cycling to work may be good for your bank balance and the environment, and new research suggests it may also be good for the heart.
Commuting by foot or bike has been linked to a decreased incidence of heart attacks in both men and women.
Co-authored by Olympic medal-winning triathlete brothers Alistair and Jonny Brownlee, the research suggests active travel could provide important health benefits.
In areas where walking or cycling to work were more common in 2011, the incidence of heart attacks decreased across the following two years.
The research, led by the University of Leeds, acknowledged that the big risk factors for heart disease are a lack of exercise, being overweight, smoking and diabetes.
After adjusting for these, researchers found active commuting was linked with additional health benefits in some cases.
For women who walked to work there was an associated 1.7% reduction in heart attacks the following year.
And for men who cycled to work there was also an associated 1.7% reduction in heart attacks the following year.
Published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, the study looked at the 2011 UK Census data, which included 43 million people aged 25 to 74 employed in England.
It found that 11.4% were active commuters, with 8.6% walking and 2.8% cycling.
Lead author Professor Chris Gale, consultant cardiologist, from the University of Leeds’ Institute for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Medicine, said: “Whilst we cannot conclusively say that active travel to work lowers the risk of heart attack, the study is indicative of such a relationship.
“Greater efforts by national and local policy makers to improve the uptake of cycling and walking to work are likely to be rewarded by future improvements in population-based health.
“The effect of active commuting is fairly modest when compared with the stronger determinants of cardiovascular health such as smoking, obesity, diabetes and regular exercise.
“However, this study clearly suggests that exercising on the way to work has the potential to bring nationwide improvements to health and wellbeing.”
People who reported their main mode of transport to work as bicycle or on foot were defined as active commuters.
According to the research, rates of active travel varied between local authorities across England, with as few as 5% of people walking or cycling to work in some authorities, compared with as many as 41.6% in other areas.
Professor Metin Avkiran, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Finding time to exercise can be tricky given our increasingly busy and often sedentary lives.
“But exercising doesn’t have to involve a pricey gym membership or hours spent on a treadmill.
“Upgrading your commute – by swapping the gas pedal for a bike pedal – is a great way to get your heart pumping on a daily basis.
“If that’s not an option, parking a few streets away or getting off the bus a few stops early can help pave the way to a longer, healthier life.”