Walking or cycling to work may be the key to lowering your risk of heart attack, according to a new study. Heart attacks are considered serious medical emergencies, often caused by coronary heart disease, which a person can develop through eating a high-fat diet and lack of exercise. But this new study suggests how your commute to work could prevent the life-threatening condition.
The study, co-authored by Alistair and Jonny Brownlee, Olympic-medal winning triathletes and alumni of the University of Leeds, suggests that active travel could provide many health benefits. In areas where cycling or walking to work were more common, the research showed that the incidence of heart attacks decreased for both men and women.
Published in the European Journal of Preventative Cardiology, the research found that active commuting was linked with additional health benefits in some cases. The study looked at the 2011 UK Census data, which included 43 million people aged 25–74. Participants lived in England and were all employed. Overall, 11.4% were active commuters. Walking was more popular than cycling (8.6% vs. 2.8%).
Women who walked to work showed an associated 1.7% reduction in heart attacks in the following years. For men who cycled to work, there was also a 1.7% reduction in heart attacks the following year. All findings were adjusted for risk factors for heart disease such as lack of exercise, being overweight, smoking, and diabetes.
Brownlee said, “Our study at the University of Leeds shows that exercise as a means of commuting to work is associated with lower levels of heart attack. The benefits of regular exercise are numerous and we support initiatives to help everyone become and stay active.”
Despite the amount of information on the benefits of physical activity, the proportion of people who exercise as part of their commute remains low.
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 well-being.”
More Focus on Active Commuting
Although these findings are from the UK, everyone in every country can take note of the health benefits associated with active commuting. There needs to be more focus on becoming physically active through other means than just simply going to a gym.
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.”