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Turning your commute into a workout — or even just a way to get exercise — can pay big dividends in health.

That’s the finding of a new study published in the BMJ focused on commuting by walking or bicycling in the United Kingdom.

Researchers at Scotland’s University of Glasgow followed 263,450 participants with an average age of 53 for five years; 52 percent were women. The scientists counted the incidences of heart disease, cancers, and death, adjusting for other health influences including smoking, body mass index, other types of physical activity, time spent sitting down, and diet.

“Cycle commuters had a 52 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 40 percent lower risk of dying from cancer,” the authors wrote. “They also had [a] 46 percent lower risk of developing heart disease and a 45 percent lower risk of developing cancer at all.”

Walking to work was not associated with a lower risk of dying from all causes. Still, walkers did have a 27 percent lower risk of heart disease and a 36 percent lower risk of dying from it.

Finding the time and facilities to commute by bicycle remain a hurdle, the study authors report. But the risks of being injured in traffic accidents are far overridden by the health benefits of the bicycle commute, they state.

In the United States, bicycle commuting has grown more than 60 percent nationwide since 2000, according a U.S. Census report. Still, American bicycle commuting lags far behind the Netherlands, where 43 percent of the Dutch ride to work, a European Commission report finds.

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