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article imageStudy: By cycling to work you may live longer

By Tim Sandle     Feb 23, 2020 in Health
Research from New Zealand, looking into physical activity, finds that people who cycle to work tend to have a longer life expectancy compared with those who elect to take trains or drive to work.
The study, which comes from the University of Otago, finds that those who elect to cycle to work have a lower risk of dying, when assessed across a range of disease and ill-health factors.
When expressed as a percentage, the findings show that commuter cyclists have a 13 percent reduction in mortality, as a result of the physical activity, compared with the general population. This is not only compared to those who drive or opt for a mobility solution, but also compared with people who walk to work.
Data for the study was drawn from the wider New Zealand Census-Mortality Study, which collates data from a population census with medical files pertaining to mortality (and included 3.5 million people). Selected people were surveyed about their journey to work habits across the course of five years. Those tracked for five-year spells were drawn from national censuses carried out in 1996, 2001 and 2006.
While the findings draw a clear indication of the health benefits of cycling, for the periods when the data was compiled it remained that 80 percent of people drove to work. Of the remainder, 12 percent took public transport, five percent walked and just three percent jumped on a push bike.
With the three percent cyclist there was also a gender divide, with few women (2 percent) cycling compared with men (at 4 percent). However, a greater proportion of women (7 percent) walk to work compared with men (at 5 percent).
In terms of other demographics, cycling is more popular with younger people compared with older members of the workforce.
The data did not assess the physical intensity of the commute, so there was no sway of directly comparing, say, a cyclist who cycles for just five minutes compared with someone who walks briskly to work over the course of thirty minutes. This makes the findings very general, although the cycling benefit was clear expressed.
According to principal researcher Dr Caroline Shaw, considerable inference can be drawn from the study findings: “We studied 80 per cent of the working-age population of New Zealand over a 15-year period, so it is highly representative."
The researcher recommends that measures should be taken by governments and campaign groups to promote the concept of ‘active transport’ in relation to how people travel to and from work. As well as promoting a healthy lifestyle, there are environmental benefits to be gained from reducing the use of automobiles.
The research findings have been published in the International Journal of Epidemiology. The research paper is: “Is mode of transport to work associated with mortality in the working-age population? Repeated census-cohort studies in New Zealand 1996, 2001 and 2006.”
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