UK Data Link a Physically Active Commute to Lower BMI in Middle-Aged People

A more active way of getting to work—whether by bike, on foot, or on the subway—translates into significantly less body fat and mass for middle-aged adults, according to a paper published online yesterday in the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.

Lead author Ellen Flint, PhD (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, England), acknowledges that it can be difficult or even impossible for some people to rely entirely on exercise as a means of transportation. “Many people live too far from their workplace for walking or cycling to be feasible,” she noted in a press release, “but even the incidental physical activity involved in public transport can have an important effect.”

Along with Steven Cummins, PhD (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, England), Flint analyzed data from the UK Biobank on more than 70,000 men and 80,000 women aged 40 to 69 years who self-reported their commuting habits while being seen at 22 assessment centers across the United Kingdom between 2006 and 2010.

Active commuting—whether by a mix of public transport and other means, or by cycling and/or walking—was independently associated with lower body fat and mass for both men and women even after accounting for other factors such as income, the socioeconomic level of their neighborhood, urban or rural residence, education, alcohol intake, smoking, general physical activity, occupational activity, and overall health and disability.

Cycling, the most active type of transport, was linked to the greatest reduction in BMI compared with riding in a car. But walking, public transport, and a combination of public/active transport also made a difference.

Average Difference in BMI (kg/m2) vs Car Commute

In addition, the various modes of active commuting were linked to lower body weight.

Lars Bo Anderson, PhD, DMSc (Sogndal and Fjordane University College, Sogndal, Norway), writes in an accompanying editorial that the study offers good news to people who find it hard to fit exercise into their daily lives.

“The finding of a positive effect from active commuting is important, because commuting to work is an everyday activity that lots of working people need to do,” he notes. “Many people are not attracted to recreational sports or other leisure time physical activities, which are proven to benefit health, and active transport might therefore be an important and easy choice to increase physical activity and the proportion of people achieving recommended levels of physical activity.”


  • Flint E, Cummins S. Active commuting and obesity in mid-life: cross-sectional, observational evidence from UK Biobank. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2016;Epub ahead of print.
  • Andersen LB. Active commuting: an easy and effective way to improve health. Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2016;Epub ahead of print.

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  • The study was funded by the UK Medical Research council.
  • Flint and Cummins report no relevant conflicts of interest.