Next time you are crawling along in your car and wondering if you should just park up further from work and join the pedestrians, consider this: a new UK study suggests people there who walked to work were about 40% less likely to have diabetes compared with those who got there by car.

The researchers – publishing their findings in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine – analyzed data from a survey of 20,000 people across the UK, looking at various health indicators and how people traveled to work.

Cardiovascular disease is the world’s biggest killer, for which being overweight, having high blood pressure and diabetes are major risk factors.

The researchers say workers could cut their risk for heart attacks and other serious health problems by using their car less and walking or cycling to work.

Anthony Laverty is from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London. He told the press:

This study highlights that building physical activity into the daily routine by walking, cycling or using public transport to get to work is good for personal health.”

He and his colleagues found those who walked, cycled or used public transport were less likely to be overweight compared with commuters who got to work by taxi or by car.

Results show that 19% of workers who got to work by car, motorbike or taxi were obese compared with 15% of those who walked there and 13% of cycling commuters.

The analysis also showed that commuters who walked to work had a 17% lower chance of having high blood pressure than those who drove.

Cycling to work was tied to around half the risk for diabetes as driving.

The researchers found big differences in how commuters travelled to work around the UK. For example, 52% of London’s commuters used public transport compared with just 5% in Northern Ireland.

“The variations between regions suggest that infrastructure and investment in public transport, walking and cycling can play a large role in encouraging healthy lives, and that encouraging people out of the car can be good for them as well as the environment,” said Laverty.

There is evidence that cutting down on time spent sitting is just as important as increasing time spent getting fit.

A morning jog or brisk walk to work may bring many health benefits but they may not make up for the hours spent in front of a computer or TV.

A study led by Kansas State University found sitting for long hours is linked to increased risk of developing chronic diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

So the bottom-line message is move more, sit less. In arguing the benefit of physical activity, the Harvard School of Public Health says:

“Next to not smoking, getting regular physical activity is arguably the best thing you can do for your health.”

Written by Catharine Paddock PhD