For twenty years scientists have been advising us to pedal our way to better health. Cycling, they say, lowers the risk of death from all causes.
Now a large UK study has provided some hard evidence that they may be right. It suggests that commuters who cycle to work are cutting their risk of developing cancer and heart disease by almost half.
According to the researchers, cycling to work is associated with a 45% lower risk of developing cancer and a 46% lower risk of heart disease, compared to a non-active commute. Overall, commuters who cycled were found to have a 41% lower risk of premature death.
The study, published in the BMJ, analyzed data from 264,337 participants from UK Biobank. Volunteers were asked questions about their usual mode of commuting to work and then followed up for 5 years. The new cases of cancer, heart attacks and deaths in that 5-year period were assessed and related to their commute.
Dr. Jason Gill, from the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences, said: “Cycling all or part of the way to work was associated with substantially lower risk of adverse health outcomes. Those who cycled the full length of their commute had an over 40% lower risk of heart disease, cancer and overall mortality over the 5 years of follow-up.”
Researchers also looked at data from those who walked to work, drove or took public transit. Although they found certain health benefits for walkers, the cyclists came out ahead, most likely because they were commuting longer distances.
The number of U.S. workers who traveled to work by bicycle increased from about 488,000 in 2000 to about 786,000 in 2008–2012, a larger percentage increase than that of any other commuting mode. (US Census Bureau)
In 2013/2014, 41% of Canadians aged 12 or older (an estimated 12 million people) said they’d cycled at some point during the year. (Statistics Canada)
Cycling declines with age. In Canada a large majority (82%) of 12- to 14-year-olds reported cycling. At age 50 or older, the percentage was 27%.
According to the Copenhagenize Index, which tracks the world’s most bicycle-friendly cities, Copenhagen and Amsterdam top the list, with just one city in Canada making it into the top 20: Montreal, at #20. No US city made the cut this time around, although Portland (#13), San Francisco (#17) and New York (#20) appeared on the list in 2011.