According to a study by researchers in Sweden, getting extra support and encouragement can help more women to exercise during their daily commute. Such exercise can help to prevent health problems such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease in obese women. The findings, published in the International Journal of Obesity, show how simple measures can make a big difference in helping people change their habits and stick to a new routine. According to Dr Erik Hemmingsson of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, who led the study, 'Physically active transport is probably our best bet for helping populations at risk of heart disease and diabetes to increase physical activity levels, since we have to spend time getting to and from work anyway.' The 18-month study involved 120 women between the ages of 30 and 60 years who were abdominally obese (with a waist circumference of at least 88 centimetres) and physically out of shape. The women were randomly assigned to one of two groups: walkers (the control group) and walkers encouraged to cycle (the intervention group). Subjects in the walking group were given pedometers. During two two-hour group meetings, they were encouraged to walk to and from work. The object was for each subject to slowly increase the number of steps they took in a day. A subject participating in this programme, which represents a standard exercise intervention, would be considered successful if she carried on walking around 10,000 steps a day. The intervention group participated in the same programme, but with several important additions. They each had three individual consultations with a physician, who provided each woman with a 'physical activity prescription' specifically encouraging them to cycle to and from work. Subjects also participated in two additional group meetings, and were lent a new ladies' bicycle to use over the course of the 18-month study. A subject participating in this intervention programme would be considered successful if she carried on walking around 10,000 steps a day or cycled an average of 2 kilometres a day. Both groups were encouraged to walk to work or, in the intervention group, to either walk or cycle to work. Suggestions given to the subjects included measures such as taking public transport and getting off a stop earlier than usual. The cycling group participants, who received much more encouragement than the women in the walking group, were clearly more successful in changing their regime and sticking to it. In this group, 38.7% of the subjects cycled two kilometres or more per day. In the control group, only around 9% of the women managed the 10,000 steps-a-day target. Roughly the same proportion of women in both groups significantly increased their walking, which suggests that cycling does not have to detract from daily walks. In both groups, a significant number of subjects reduced their waistlines, but not their weight. 'Bearing in mind that many of the women in the cycling group hadn't been on a bike since they were children, it was gratifying to see that so many of them actually managed to cycle regularly to work,' commented Dr Hemmingsson. 'The support programme given to the intervention group was deliberately not particularly expensive since we wanted the programme to be a feasible option for primary care,' he added. 'A positive side effect was that car driving dropped by 34 percent.'