Taking a bus or train to work rather than driving may improve health, according to researchers.
Lead study author Dr. Hisako Tsuji, director of the Moriguchi City Health Examination Center in Osaka, Japan, and colleagues recently presented their findings at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2015 in Orlando, FL.
While physical activity can help reduce these risk factors, Dr. Tsuji and colleagues note that it is unclear whether they may be influenced by a person's work commute.
To find out, the team assessed data of 5,908 adults from Japan. Participants underwent a health examination in 2012, in which they were asked how they get to work.
Subjects were divided into three groups: those who used public transport (bus or train) to get to work, those who walked or cycled to work, and those who traveled to work by car. The average age in each group was 49-54 years.
Men were more likely than women to drive to work, according to the researchers, while women were more likely to use public transport, walk or cycle to work.
Public transport users even had better health than walkers, cyclists
Compared with drivers, participants who used public transport to get to work were 44% less likely to be overweight, 34% less likely to have diabetes and 27% less likely to have high blood pressure.
The researchers were surprised to find the risks for high blood pressure, overweight and diabetes were also lower for subjects who used public transportation than those who walked or cycled to work.
The researchers say commuters' walk to and from the bus or train station may have been longer than participants' walk or cycle to and from work, which may explain the lower risks identified. "If it takes longer than 20 minutes one-way to commute by walking or cycling, many people seem to take public transportation or a car in urban areas of Japan," notes Dr. Tsuji.
Based on their findings, Dr. Tsuji says the general population should review how they get to work:
"People should consider taking public transportation instead of a car, as a part of daily, regular exercise. It may be useful for health care providers to ask patients about how they commute."
The team admits there are some limitations to the study. For example, all participants were from Japan, and Japanese individuals are less likely to be overweight than Americans.
In addition, the researchers say it is possible that the participants who used public transport to get to work were already healthier than those who used other methods. As such, they may have already had a lower risk of high blood pressure, overweight and diabetes.
Still, the team believes their findings warrant further investigation.
Earlier this year, Medical News Today reported on a study that found switching to public transport to get to work instead of driving a car led to reduced body mass index (BMI) in study participants.