Choosing an active way to get to work could make a big difference in how much weight creeps on in middle age, a large U.K. study suggests.
Studying tens of thousands of commuters over age 40, researchers found that people who drove to work weighed more and had a higher percentage of body fat than those who got to work by walking, biking or public transportation.
Those who commuted by bicycle were the leanest of all, but even taking the train was linked to lower body weight and body fat.
The study shows that people who manage to build physical activity into their daily commute have significantly lower body weight and healthier body composition than those who commute by car.
To examine links between commuting mode and body weight, the study team used data on 157,000 middle-aged British adults, collected between 2006 and 2010.
Body fat was assessed in two ways: body mass index (BMI), which is a ratio of weight to height, and body fat percentage.
Car travel was the most common method of commuting, with 64 percent of men and 61 percent of women reporting they drove for all or part of their commutes. Four percent of men and 7 percent of women exclusively walked to work, while 4 percent of men and 2 percent of women cycled or mixed cycling with walking. Overall, 23 percent of men and 24 percent of women used an active commuting method either exclusively or as part of a mix of transport methods.
Even after accounting for a wide range of characteristics and lifestyle information about the participants, active commuting methods were linked to lower body weight and body fat.
Cyclists weighed about 10 pounds less than drivers
The biggest difference was seen between cyclists and drivers. Men who biked to work averaged nearly two BMI points less and were about 11 pounds lighter than those who drove. Women who biked were about 1.65 BMI points less and 9.7 pounds lighter than those who commuted by car.
Although factors outside of individuals' control can influence their commuting choices, experts say people need to know that everyday health choices make a difference in the long run.
The average person gains one to two pounds each year after the age of 30 years, a trend that can be prevented by simple things such as choosing the active travel and small changes in nutrition.
Communities also need to help people make healthier choices by providing the infrastructure that makes it possible to cycle and walk to work.
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