The study conducted by Martin Rasmussen of the University of Southern Denmark and colleagues included 24,623 men and 27,890 women, recruited between the ages of 50 and 65, and compared the association between self-reported recreational and commuter cycling habits with T2D incidence.

Researchers found that participants who engaged in habitual cycling were less likely to develop T2D, and risk of developing T2D appeared to decrease with longer time spent cycling per week.

Five years after they were initially recruited, participants were contacted for follow-up and their cycling habits were re-assessed. People who took up habitual cycling during this period were at 20 per cent lower risk for T2D than non-cyclists, researchers said.

"Because cycling can be included in everyday activities, it may be appealing to a large part of the population. This includes people who due to lack of time, would not otherwise have the resources to engage in physical activity," said Rasmussen.

"We find it especially interesting that those who started cycling had a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, given that the study population were men and women of middle and old age," said Rasmussen.

"This emphasises that even when entering elderly age, it is not too late to take up cycling to lower one's risk of chronic disease," he added.

The findings were published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

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