A study from Japan suggests that people who commute by public transport may be healthier than those who ride a bike to work, being less likely to be overweight or to have diabetes or high blood pressure.
Researchers at Osaka’s Moriguchi City Health Examination Centre examined the commuting habits of almost 6,000 people.
They found that those who commute by train or bus were 44 per cent less likely to be obese than car drivers. Compared to motorists, public transport users were 27 per cent less likely to have high blood pressure and 34 per cent less likely to have diabetes.
The surprising finding however was that bus and train users were also in better health than those who commute by pedal power, with lower incidence of being overweight or having diabetes or high blood pressure.
One potential explanation, according to the researchers, is that because bus or train travel isn’t typically door to door, people who commute using those modes may get more exercise than cyclists – or at least those who ride short distances to work – since they have to walk to or from the station or bus stop.
The study’s lead author, Dr Hisako Tsuji, said: "If it takes longer than 20 minutes one-way to commute by walking or cycling, many people seem to take public transportation or a car in urban areas of Japan.
"People should consider taking public transportation instead of a car, as a part of daily, regular exercise. It may be useful for healthcare providers to ask patients about how they commute."
According to the research, men were more likely to drive a car to work, while women were more likely to use public transport or to walk or cycle.
The study’s authors however were unable to determine whether taking public transport in itself had a positive impact on health, or whether it was the case that people using buses or trains were healthier in the first place.
They also noted that with lower levels of obesity in Japan, the results if the study might bot be directly applicable to western countries.
Earlier this year, London-based cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra, in an editorial published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, said it was a “myth” that exercise could help obese people lose weight.
Instead, he blamed poor diet rather than lack of exercise as being behind the rise in prevalence of obesity, and said people needing to lose weight should be encouraged to eat more healthily.
However, Professor Mark Baker from the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence, which sets guidelines for health in England and Wales, said it was "idiotic" to downplay the value of exercise.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.