Obese people who switch their car for a more active commute could cut their chances of an early death, new research suggests.
Adults with a body mass index (BMI) above 30, who walk and cycle to work, have a similar risk of dying to people who are a healthy weight and do the same, according to a study presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow.
The researchers, from the University of Glasgow, suggest active commuting could reduce some of the risk associated with being obese or overweight and help people meet recommended physical activity levels.
Data from more than 163,000 UK adults between the ages of 37 and 73 was analysed as part of the study, including self-reported data on how they travelled to work.
The risk of death from any cause over the next five years was almost a third (32%) higher among obese people who commuted by car, compared to active commuters who were a healthy weight, the study found.
This group also had double the risk of dying from heart disease and a 59% increase in the risk of developing non-fatal heart disease.
Meanwhile, obese people who chose to walk or cycle to work had a similar risk of premature death from any cause to active commuters who were a healthy weight.
However, their risk of developing heart disease was still 82% higher.
“Our findings, if causal, suggest that people with overweight or obesity could potentially decrease the risk of premature mortality if they engage in active commuting,” the authors said.
“Regardless of your body weight, being physically active could partly reduce the excess risk associated with obesity.
“However, compared to other forms of physical activity – such as gyms and exercises classes – active commuting can be implemented and fitted within our daily routines, often with no additional cost, but at the same time could increase our overall physical activity levels and therefore help to meet the current physical activity recommendations for health.”
Chris Allen, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Physical inactivity is one of the most significant global health crises of our time. Regardless of your weight, spending long periods of your day sitting puts you at greater risk of heart disease and an early death.
“In an age where we’re living increasingly busy but often sedentary lives, weaving physical activity into our daily routines has never been more important.
“Upgrading your commute – by swapping the gas pedal for a bike pedal or hitting the footpath – is a great way to start.”