Cycle or walk to cut your risk of cancer and heart disease – research backs Ipswich Star campaign to ditch the car

Cycling or walking to work is good for your health, experts have found.

Cycling or walking to work is good for your health, experts have found.

The Ipswich Star’s campaign to persuade motorists to leave their cars at home has received powerful backing from academics who say cycling to work can cut the risk of some cancers and heart disease in half.

The Ditch the Car campaign logo

The Ditch the Car campaign logo - Credit: Archant

And walking to work can cut the risk by a quarter.

The new study by the University of Glasgow on 264,337 people, 52% of whom were women, found cycling to work is linked to a 45% lower risk of developing cancer and a 46% lower risk of cardiovascular disease, compared to driving to work or taking public transport.

Overall, cyclists had a 41% lower risk of premature death from any cause.

Walking to work was also associated with a 27% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and a 36% lower risk of dying from it.

But there was no link with a lower risk of cancer or dying early from any cause in walkers, the study found.

People who preferred to stroll to work also had to walk for two hours a week in total to see health benefits, at an average speed of three miles per hour.

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Experts behind the study, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), said the lower benefits seen for walking compared to cycling could be down to several factors.

These include the fact cyclists covered longer distances in their commutes than the walkers, cycling is a higher intensity exercise and cyclists were generally more fit.

Dr Carlos Celis-Morales, from the University of Glasgow, said: “Walking to work was associated with lower risk of heart disease, but unlike cycling was not associated with a significantly lower risk of cancer or overall death.

“This may be because walkers commuted shorter distances than cyclists, typically six miles per week, compared with 30 miles per week, and walking is generally a lower intensity of exercise than cycling.”

The study also found some health benefits if people cycled part of their journey and took public transport or drove the rest of the way.

The people taking part in the research were aged 52 on average at the start of the study and were followed for five years.

Some 2,430 people died during the study period, with 496 deaths related to cardiovascular disease, which covers all diseases of the heart and circulation, and 1,126 deaths from cancer.

Overall, 3,748 people developed cancer over the five years, and 1,110 had an event related to cardiovascular disease, such as a heart attack or stroke.

The survey was published as Suffolk County Council starts to distribute a new Ipswich cycle map to try to encourage more people to use their bikes to get to work or for other uses.

Sophie May, the council’s travel plan officer, said it was trying to encourage people to take up cycling on an occasional basis – but found that once people started using a cycle they adopted it as their usual method of getting to work.

She also works with companies to try to encourage them to improve facilities for cyclists – with secure storage and shower facilities high on the list.

Dr Amanda Jones from Suffolk County Council said: “It’s pleasing to see the University of Glasgow’s study about cycling and walking.

“The study clearly outlines the benefits of exercising while making your way to and from work and this is something we are already actively promoting.”