It is important for everyone to get regular physical activity. Exercise can help prevent long-term health conditions such as diabetes, coronary heart disease and cancer. Losing weight, meanwhile, can be beneficial if you already have diabetes as it can improve your blood glucose levels.
In the study, researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine analysed data from 150,000 individuals aged between 40 and 69.
Lead researcher Dr. Ellen Flint, said: “We found that, compared with commuting by car, public transport, walking and cycling or a mix of all three are associated with reductions in body mass and body fat percentage, even when accounting for demographic and socioeconomic factors.”
In the study sample, 64 per cent of men and 61 per cent of women commuted by car; only 4.0 per cent of men and 2.0 per cent of women cycled or commuted via a mix of cycling and walking.
Men who cycled to work were 5kg lighter than men who drove, on average, and women who cycled to work were 4.4kg lighter, on average, than women who drove.
The next strongest association in reducing BMI and body fat percentage was among people who walked to work, but even people who used public transport lost more weight than drivers.
“Even individuals who reported a mix of public and active methods were also found to have significantly lower percentage body fat and BMI than those who exclusively commuted by car, with a similar size of association seen for the walking only and the mixed public and active transport categories,” said the researchers.
Flint added: “Many people live too far from their workplace for walking or cycling to be feasible, but even the incidental physical activity involved in public transport can have an important effect.
“Encouraging public transport and active commuting, especially for those in mid-life when obesity becomes an increasing problem, could be an important part of the global policy response to population-level obesity prevention.”
Justin Varney, interim deputy director of health and wellbeing of Public Health England, commented on the findings: “Walking and cycling are some of the easiest ways for people to incorporate physical activity into their daily lives and it is never too late to start. People who don’t get the recommended levels of activity can incorporate walking into their lifestyle as a healthy start.
“For people with disabilities, being able to access public transport easily encourages them to lead a more sociable and active life.”
The findings are published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology journal.