People who walk to work are around 40 per cent less likely to have diabetes as those who drive, according to a new study.
Researchers at Imperial College London and University College London examined how various health indicators related to how people get to work, using data from a survey of 20,000 people across the UK.
They found that cycling, walking, and using public transport were all associated with lower risk of being overweight than driving or taking a taxi. People who walk to work were also 17% less likely than people who drive to have high blood pressure. Cyclists were around half as likely to have diabetes as drivers.
The findings are published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
High blood pressure, diabetes, and being overweight are all major risk factors for heart and circulatory disease, the UK's biggest killer.
The researchers said people could reduce their risks of serious health problems such as heart attacks by avoiding using a car.
"This study highlights that building physical activity into the daily routine by walking, cycling or using public transport to get to work is good for personal health ," said Anthony Laverty, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London.
Nineteen per cent of working age adults who use private transport - such as cars, motorbikes or taxis - to get to work were obese, compared to 15 per cent of those who walked and 13 per cent of those who cycled to work.
The study found wide variations in the modes of transport used in different parts of the UK. Public transport was used most in London, at 52 per cent, compared with just five per cent in Northern Ireland.
"The variations between regions suggest that infrastructure and investment in public transport, walking and cycling can play a large role in encouraging healthy lives, and that encouraging people out of the car can be good for them as well as the environment," said Laverty.
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Notes to editors
1. AA Laverty et al. 'Active travel to work and cardiovascular risk factors in the United Kingdom' American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2013.
2. About Imperial College London
Consistently rated amongst the world's best universities, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research that attracts 14,000 students and 6,000 staff of the highest international quality. Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and business, delivering practical solutions that improve quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.
Since its foundation in 1907, Imperial's contributions to society have included the discovery of penicillin, the development of holography and the foundations of fibre optics. This commitment to the application of research for the benefit of all continues today, with current focuses including interdisciplinary collaborations to improve global health, tackle climate change, develop sustainable sources of energy and address security challenges.
In 2007, Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust formed the UK's first Academic Health Science Centre. This unique partnership aims to improve the quality of life of patients and populations by taking new discoveries and translating them into new therapies as quickly as possible.