Researchers say avoiding car travel is key to staying healthy

Cyclists have half the risk of developing diabetes as compared to those who drive to work, research has found.

A survey of 20,000 people across the UK was carried out in 2009 and 2011, and found that where people used more active ways of getting to work, including cycling and walking, there were clear health benefits.

People who use public transport also had healthier outcomes, and this was attributed to the fact that people who use it walk an average of 19 minutes as part of their journey.

The findings, by Imperial College London and University College London, are published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, and researchers say it's clear good advice to avoid using cars.

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.

According to Diabetes UK, around three million people in the UK have diabetes - about one in 20. Type 2, or later onset diabetes is connected with obesity and inactivity - and rates have soared over the last 10 years.

"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.

"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."

There has already been convincing evidence for the health benefits of cycling to work; a meta-analysis of all studies prior to 2007 found that active travel to work is associated with an 11% reduction in cardiovascular risk.

We reported previously how researchers at the University of East Anglia identified 24 separate conditions, including dementia and cancer, that people could lessen the risk of contracting by undertaking regular exercise of as little as 30 minutes a day. 

According to one of the researchers, Leslie Alford, regular moderate exercise, defined as a bike ride or brisk walk 150 minutes a week, or 30 minutes a day, benefits men and women, irrespective of age, and can lower the onset of conditions such as a stroke or heart disease, plus others including type II diabetes, obesity, depression, high blood pressure and osteoporosis.

Mr Alford also says that increasing the amount of exercise, for example to an hour each day, provides further benefits, as does adhering to a healthy diet and avoiding being overweight.

After an unpromising start, having to be bribed by her parents to learn to ride without stabilisers, Sarah became rather keener on cycling in her university years, and was eventually persuaded to upgrade to proper road cycling by the prospect of a shiny red Italian bike, which she promptly destroyed by trapping a pair of knickers in the rear derailleur. Sarah writes about about cycling every weekend on road.cc.