Health benefits of cycling

Physical activity is one of the key determinants of good health. A physically active lifestyle, including walking, cycling or participating in sport, reduces the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke and promotes good mental health.

Saving Lives: Our Healthier Nation, Government white paper (July 1999)

Cyclists are healthier than the average motorist and can expect to live longer.

After just a few weeks of regular cycling, regardless of age, gender or initial physical fitness, the cyclist will be fitter and enjoy a greater sense of well-being.

Regular exercise, such as cycling, halves the chances of suffering from heart disease, the single largest cause of death in Britain, and provides protection from strokes, diabetes and certain types of cancer. (1)

Fitness

Cycling is one of the most enjoyable and effective work-outs.

Even a small amount of cycling can lead to significant health benefits, according to a British study involving 99 volunteers. (2)

Its many benefits include:

  • Improving strength, stamina and cardio-vascular fitness. Cycling helps to lower both blood pressure and the resting heart rate.

  • Shedding those unwanted pounds. A cycle ride increases calorie consumption and raises the metabolic rate, which can help to lose weight.

  • Improving balance and co-ordination.

  • Promoting psychological well-being. Several studies have shown that exercise helps reduce stress, improves a general sense of well-being and improves mental capacities.

The Department of Health recommends that people should take part in moderately intensive activity lasting 30 minutes at least five days a week. Health experts believe cycling provides the one of the most effective forms of aerobic exercise (3) – as well as being convenient and exhilarating.

Longer-term benefits

As well as improving general fitness, cycling helps reduce the chances of a premature death, providing protection against some the country’s most prevalent causes of death.

 A cyclist will have greater protection from:

  • Heart failure. Exercise provides the single most effective protective factor for coronary heart disease.

  • Strokes. Cycling helps to reduce high blood pressure, a condition which significantly increases the change of someone having a stroke.

  • Falls, fractures and injuries. A cyclist has a reduced chance of an accident because of improvements in strength and co-ordination. (5)

  • Dangers of pollution. Cyclists and pedestrians absorb lower levels of pollutants from traffic fumes than other road users. (6)

  • Cancer and diabetes. Research indicates exercise reduces the risk of developing colon cancer and can also protect against diabetes.

Risk of injury

One of the main reasons given by people in London for not using a bike is the fear of collisions with motor vehicles.

Collision figures released by the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions however show that a cycling death in Britain occurs less than once every 18million cycling miles. A serious injury occurs less than once ever 900,000 cycling miles. (7).

Doctors and government health experts have concluded that the benefits of cycling outweigh the risk of injury. (8)

References:

  1. Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, Health Benefits of Physical Activity (October 2001)

  2. Department of the Transport, Environment and the Regions, Cycling for Better Health (December 1999)

  3. Pedalling Health: Health Benefits of a Modal Transport Shift by Ian Roberts, Harry Owen, Peter Lumb and Colin MacDougall (1995)

  4. Health Impact Assessment of Transport by Mark McCarthy, University College London

  5. National Cycling Forum, Promoting Cycling: Improving Health (April 1999)

  6. National Cycling Forum, Promoting Cycling: Improving Health (April 1999)

  7. Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions Transport Statistics, Great Britain (2001 edition)

  8. Cycling: Towards Health and Safety, British Medical Association (1992)



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