People who bike regularly for pleasure or to commute have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, according to two studies.
In a study of 45,000 Danish adults published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation:
- Those who regularly biked for recreation or to commute had 11 percent to 18 percent fewer heart attacks during a 20-year follow-up.
- As little as half an hour of biking per week provided some protection against coronary artery disease.
- People who took up biking during the first five years of follow-up also had about a 25 percent lower risk of developing heart disease, compared with those who remained non-bikers in the subsequent 15 years.
Researchers estimate that more than 7 percent of 2,892 heart attacks during the 20 years could have been averted by taking up cycling and doing it regularly.
"Because recreational and commuter biking is an easy way to make physical activity part of one's routine in a non-structured and informal fashion, based on the results, public health authorities, governments and employers ought to consider initiatives that promote bicycle riding as a way to support large scale cardiovascular disease prevention efforts," said Kim Blond, M.Sc., lead author and research assistant at the University of Southern Denmark.
In a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, middle-aged and older Swedish adults who biked to work were less likely than non-bikers to be obese, have high cholesterol, high blood pressure or pre-diabetes -- all critical drivers of cardiovascular risk.
Researchers followed more than 20,000 people in their 40s, 50s and 60s for 10 years and monitored their commuting habits, weight, cholesterol levels, blood glucose and blood pressure.
At the beginning of the study, compared with passive commuters who used public transportation or drove to work, active commuters who biked to work were:
- 15 percent less likely to be obese
- 13 percent less likely have high blood pressure
- 15 percent less likely to have high cholesterol
- 12 percent less likely to have pre-diabetes or diabetes
In a follow-up exam 10 years later, those who maintained or took up biking had a 39 percent lower risk of obesity, 11 percent lower risk of high blood pressure, 20 percent lower risk of high cholesterol and 18 percent lower diabetes risk.
"We found active commuting, which has the additional advantages of being time efficient, cheaper and environmentally friendly, is also great for your health," said Paul Franks, Ph.D., senior study author and professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences at Lund University in Sweden. "The multiple advantages of active commuting over structured exercise may help clinicians convey a message that many patients will embrace more readily than being told to join a gym, go for a jog or join a sports team."
Based on their findings, researchers also estimated that maintaining biking habits or switching from passive commuting to biking may have prevented 24 percent of obesity cases, 6 percent of hypertension diagnoses, 13 percent of high cholesterol diagnoses and 11 percent of the cases of diabetes.
"The really good news here is that it's never too late to benefit from an active lifestyle," Franks said. "People who switched from passive to active commuting saw considerable gains in their cardiovascular health."
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