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Cycling to work really does make you thinner study confirms

Interestingly, according to the study in the BMJ, using public transport is as effective

Cycling to work really does make you thinner, according to findings of a new scientific study published in the British Medical Journal.

Most people who ride to work will have known this already but it's always good to have science on your side too. Armed with this proof, experts will now be louder in their calls for people to leave their cars at home and find more active forms of travel - such as cycling.

The investigation, performed by researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and University College London, took a sample of around 7500 individuals and analysed the relationship between their body fat percentage or Body Mass Index score and their chosen method of transport to work.

The results showed that men who traveled by public transport or were active for part of their commute had respective BMI scores (weight ÷ height) of 1.10 and 0.97 points lower than those who drove.

Meanwhile, women who commuted via public modes of transport had BMI scores 0.72 lower, and those who commuted actively were 0.87 points lower than those who made their way to work through private means of transport.

In terms of the impact active transport had on body fat percentage, the report said that the results were “similar in terms of magnitude, significance, and direction of effects" to those seen in BMI change.

One of the researchers, Ellen Flint, PhD of LSHTM, pointed out that active commuting proved to be more effective in the fight against obesity than dieting and targeted exercise.

Alongside Dr Flint, the study was undertaken by the professor of population health, Steve Cummins, also of LSHTM, and professor of lifecourse studies at UCL, Amanda Sacker.

Dr Flint spoke to Medscape Medical News following the publication of the results on August 19, about the potential benefits of the UK population ditching the car.

She said: "Because the predominant mode of transportation in Britain is the car, if we can affect a large modal shift away from private transport toward public or active modes of transport, there really is great potential to reap large population health benefits on overweight and obesity."

There are all sorts of theories which experts put forward that would encourage cycling among commuters, thus reaping these health benefits. One of the most widely suggested is the improvement of road infrastructure to support safer cycling.

Last month we reported a study which showed that people who lived near cycle paths get 45 minutes' more exercise overall every week.

Research associate at Imperial College London, Anthony Laverty, and reader in public health, Christopher Millett, PhD wrote an accompanying piece to Dr Flint's study which explained that the reduction in body fat observed in association with the use of public transport was the most interesting and important finding.

"This benefit is likely to accrue because the use of public transport generally involves walking and occasionally cycling to transport access points or interchanges, thus increasing incidental physical activity," the pairs’ editorial read.

They went on to highlight that healthcare professionals are additionally well placed to advise patients to 'leave your car at home,'" the authors note. "This will not only improve their patients' health in the short term but also help reduce the likelihood of hazardous climate change further in the future."

The full results of the study can be found on the British Medical Journal website, here.

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