You may be familiar with the saying: ‘The journey is just as important as the destination.’ But when it comes to your daily commute and your health, this familiar phrase takes on a whole new, and quite literal, significance.

Increasing amounts of research show that how we travel to work – our daily commuting choice – can have a profound impact on our overall health. There’s now compelling evidence that active commuting methods, such as cycling and walking, not only make for a pleasant start to the day but can also play a significant role in fending off some severe health conditions.

From a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease to lower chances of developing cancer, and even improvements in mental health – the benefits of ditching the car keys for walking shoes or a bike helmet are compelling. What’s more, these active commuting options have even been linked to lower overall mortality rates.

Study reveals drivers have largest cardiovascular risk

In a recent study published in the journal Preventive Medicine, a team of researchers investigated the cardiovascular impacts of different commuting methods.

Pulling data from the UK Biobank, which included over 200,000 participants, they examined a spectrum of commuting habits, from active modes like cycling and walking, to passive ones like driving. Results revealed participants who frequently walked or cycled to work, showed lower risks of certain cardiovascular issues compared to car commuters.

Walking commuters were notably linked with a reduced risk of low levels of HDL (‘good’ cholesterol) and apolipoprotein A, while cycling commuters were less likely to have high triglyceride levels and certain other risk factors.

Interestingly, these health benefits appeared to amplify with each additional mile walked or cycled. On the flip side, drivers faced a different story. With every extra 10 miles travelled per week, the risk of high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, among other issues, increased. Even the dietary habits of car commuters differed, with a higher percentage of them consuming processed meats compared to bicycle commuters.

Clearly, it’s not just the journey but the mode of travel that could influence the destination – in this case, our heart health.

The benefits of active commuting

Active commuting, like walking or cycling to work, is more than just an eco-friendly choice – it can have a profound impact on your cardiovascular health.

A close look at the UK Biobank study findings, reveals that those who choose to lace up their shoes or ride a bike to work, can experience reductions in risk factors for cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and type II diabetes.

Walking and cycling at the recommended intensity of around 150 minutes per week, could slash premature mortality risks by 11% and 10%, respectively.

Researchers from the Physical Activity for Health Research Centre (PAHRC) also have good news for active commuters. Their research indicates that in all but the most polluted environments, the health benefits gained from active travel far outweigh the risks from air pollution.

Looking after your cardiovascular health

Opting for a more active commute is just one way to protect your cardiovascular health. According to the British Heart Foundation, approximately 7.6 million people are living with circulatory and heart diseases in the UK.

If you want to learn more about protecting your cardiovascular health, schedule a consultation with leading cardiologist, Dr Konrad Grosser.