Driving to work, walking out your door, getting into the car and motoring to the office, has a certain appeal. Unfortunately, its appeal does not extend to your heart. Leaving your car at home on your commute to work — even occasionally — can make a difference in your health, a British study finds.
Even taking the bus is better than commuting by car.
The study looked at the commuting habits of nearly 359,000 people in mostly urban areas of the United Kingdom. Anyone who travelled to work more than three days a week was considered a regular commuter. The researchers then divided commuters into two categories: those who got to work exclusively by car and those who used some other more active mode of transportation — walking, biking or taking a train or bus at least some of the time.
People who take the train or bus need to walk to get to and from public transportation.
The researchers excluded those people who developed disease or died within the first two years of follow-up to reduce the likelihood that people with early symptoms of heart disease were choosing the car because of a preexisting health issue.
The study design can't prove that relying solely on a car to get to work causes a rise in heart disease and strokes, but it does suggest it. And the authors point to the large study size and use of national datasets on heart disease and stroke, as opposed to self-reported health information, as among the study's strengths.
Perhaps most noteworthy is that taking public transportation offered some of the same benefits as walking or biking to work. Even people who take the train or bus need to walk to and from it, to say nothing of those mornings when they actually have to run to catch (or just miss) the bus. As other studies have shown, just a little extra physical activity adds up.
Naturally, walking or biking to work generally involves more activity than taking mass transit, but they all are more active than just sliding into the driver's seat. And of course the social opportunities are also greater when taking the train, bus or walking than when you shut yourself up in your car.