Science has long conferred the benefits of mobility versus inactivity, and a recent study on the upsides of walking to work for cutting the risk of diabetes adds to that body of knowledge.

Researchers from the United Kingdom found that people who walk to work, take public transportation, or ride a bicycle had a 40 percent lower risk for diabetes than people who drove a car. Active commuters also showed lower body fat percentages and decreased risks for high blood pressure, further adding to the notion that heart disease and circulatory illnesses stem, at least in part, from a sedentary lifestyle.

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"This study demonstrates associations between active travel to work and a reduced likelihood of being overweight, having diabetes, and having hypertension," the team stated in its report, which was published in American Journal of Preventive Medicine. "These findings add to existing evidence that increasing active travel should be prioritized within national and local prevention strategies for obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease."

High blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity are all major risk factors for heart and circulatory disease, which rank as the UK's leading causes of death, according to the British Heart Foundation. Nearly 2.3 million people in the UK live with coronary heart disease. Around one in six men and one in nine women die from the disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, with 600,000 deaths, or one in every four, occurring annually. Moreover, the CDC estimates that nearly 67 million Americans have high blood pressure.

In the UK study, rates of high blood pressure dropped by 17 percent when participants walked to work; those who bicycled had a risk factor of about 50 percent less than those who drove.

The researchers found lower rates of obesity, as well. People who used private transportation methods — cars, taxis, or motorcycles — were obese 19 percent of the time. Those who walked were obese 15 percent of the time, and cyclists 13 percent.

Only 12 percent of all 20,458 surveyed reported walking to work on a regular basis. The large majority, 69 percent, said they took some form of private transportation.

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Lead researcher Anthony Laverty, from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London, said infrastructure plays a large role in affecting people's commuting habits. Often, sprawling suburban and rural areas make foot traffic an impossibility, or at least highly impractical.

A solution to the growing problem of obesity in the United Kingdom, he said, not to mention in the United States, is designing methods of public transportation that employ active methods — such as bike share programs and greater access to walking paths.

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

Source: Laverty A, Mindell J, Webb E, Millett C. Active Travel to Work and Cardiovascular Risk Factors in the United Kingdom. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2013.