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After adjusting for those factors, the investigators found that women who walked to work in 2011 had a 1.7% lower risk of heart attack in the following year, and men who cycled to work had the same reduction in heart attack risk.
The University of Leeds study was published online recently in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
The findings show "that exercise as a means of commuting to work is associated with lower levels of heart attack. The benefits of regular exercise are numerous and we support initiatives to help everyone become and stay active," study co-author Alistair Brownlee said in a university news release.
Lead author Chris Gale added, "Whilst we cannot conclusively say that active travel to work lowers the risk of heart attack, the study is indicative of such a relationship." Gale is a consultant cardiologist at Leeds' Institute for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Medicine.
"Greater efforts by national and local policy makers to improve the uptake of cycling and walking to work are likely to be rewarded by future improvements in population-based health," Gale said.
"The effect of active commuting is fairly modest when compared with the stronger determinants of cardiovascular health such as smoking, obesity, diabetes and regular exercise. However, this study clearly suggests that exercising on the way to work has the potential to bring nationwide improvements to health and well-being," he concluded.
-- Robert Preidt
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