Data from 250,000 45-60 year-olds who were working full time, average follow up 5 years during which 0.75% of the non-active commuters died, but only 0.5% of the cyclists. After adjusting for time in study, age, smoking and lots of other possible confounding factors, the relative risk of early death if you cycled to work, compared with car or public transport, was 59%. So risk pretty much halved!
Looking at mortality just from cardiovascular disease or just from cancer gave similar risk reduction. Looking at incidence of cvs disease or cancer over a slightly shorter time also showed similar, nearly 50%, reduction in risk.
For relatively young people where the risk of dying is low, these are large reductions in a small risk. Presumably the study will continue and look at more than 5 years. It seems probable that the risk reduction will continue, but it will be good to see data showing a similar percentage gain when risk of dying is higher.
This is a cross-sectional study, so it could just be that fit, healthy people cycle to work, and the commuter cycling is just incidental. However, check my previous blog where research was described that showed improvements in health indices in individuals who started cycling to work.
The new study had data on the 5.4% who walked to work. They showed no reduction in mortality or incidence of cancer, although there was a small reduction in risk of developing CVS disease. Cyclists were also divided into those with long and those with short commutes. The longer commutes did better, but even the short distance commuters had a significant 32% reduction in mortality. Another sub-group were classed as "mixed mode: cycling", and comprised 4.8% of the sample. Tthis is therefore a larger group than the ones who travelled all the way to work by bike. This part-cycling commute group also showed significant (24%) reduction in mortality and a 32% reduction in incidence of cancer.
The authors point out: The data from this study......has important policy implications, suggesting that policies designed to affect a population level modal shift to more active modes of commuting, particularly cycle commuting (eg, cycle lanes, city bike hire, subsidised cycle purchase schemes, and increasing provision for cycles on public transport), present major opportunities for the improvement of public health.
And in the mean time, get on the Bike Train, Southwark Cyclists award-winning scheme of led rides to help people get started on cycle commuting.