Cycling or walking to work reduces risk of obesity and cardiovascular disease… but only in men

Cycling to workOK, so it seems pretty obvious that cycling or walking to work is better for you than taking the car. New research published in Archives of Internal Medicine has clarified the beneficial effects in terms of fitness and cardiovascular health of walking or cycling to work – but they’re largely only seen in men.

This study assessed 2,364 adults from four US states, and found that less than a fifth (16.7%) used active means to get to work. Men who walked or cycled to work were fitter (able to run for longer on a treadmill) and were less likely to be obese (had a lower body mass index) than those who commuted by car, bus, train or subway.  Female active commuters were fitter than their more sedentary counterparts, but no less likely to be obese.

In addition, men who walked or cycled to work were at lower risk of cardiovascular disease, as they had lower levels of a range of cardiovascular disease biomarkers (i.e. blood levels of triglycerides and fasting insulin, and diastolic blood pressure).  This inverse correlation was not seen in women though.

So why the difference between men and women?  Well, women were less likely to be active commuters (15.6% of women versus 18.0% of men), and those who were active commuters were more likely to walk than cycle (82.8% in women versus 64.1% in men).  Although the median distance to work for active commuters was 5 miles for both men and women, men would cycle or walk up to 13.5 miles whereas the maximum commute in women was 10 miles.  It seems that women need to commute a bit further and at a higher intensity of exercise in order to see weight and cardiovascular benefits of active commuting.

The authors of this study conclude that nonleisure forms of exercise such as active commuting can help people increase their levels of physical activity and have beneficial effects on health.
Penny Gordon-Larsen, Janne Boone-Heinonen, Steve Sidney, Barbara Sternfeld, David R Jacobs Jr, Cora E Lewis (2009) Active Commuting and Cardiovascular Disease Risk: The CARDIA Study. Arch Intern Med 169(13): 1216-1223. PMID: 19597071

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