The Health Implications of Cycling to Work

The Health Implications of Cycling to Work

18.1.2016

While no one today would question the assertion that movement is life, one third of the adults in the world lead a sedentary lifestyle. This low level of physical activity is due, in part, to the mode of transport we choose for commuting and travelling. Car use, for example, contributes to a sedentary lifestyle and is associated with weight gain and obesity. Bicycle commuting cuts down the incidence of traffic accidents and reduces pollution, noise levels and the occupation of public space

Consequently, mobility policies that promote active modes of transport—such as walking and cycling—are key factors in promoting higher levels of physical activity in the population. Denmark and the Netherlands are two countries with exemplary mobility policies, which include anti-car measures, such as reducing the availability of parking spaces, as well as pro-cycling policies, such as investing most of their road development budgets in cycling infrastructure. In both of those countries, 20% of trips are made by bicycle, whereas in other countries, Spain for example, the percentage barely reaches 5%.

The TAPAS study

The Transport, Air Pollution and Physical Activities study (TAPAS) gathered data on the mobility patterns and self-reported physical activity levels of 752 adults in the city of Barcelona for one year, between June 2011 and May 2012. The aim of the study was to use this data to determine whether using a bicycle for the daily commute to work (the trip we undertake more than any other) led to an increase in the person’s overall level of physical activity (i.e., whether it was in addition to the commuter’s other activities) or whether it simply replaced other daily physical activity.

People who cycle to work accumulate two hours more moderate physical activity per week than people who commute using a car or motorbike

The findings, published this year in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, show that people who cycle to work accumulate two hours more moderate physical activity per week than people who commute using a car or motorbike . In other words, the physical activity involved in bicycle commuting is added to the activity accumulated through other, non-transport related, activities.

Health Implications

An additional finding was that the physical activity involved in cycling to work was almost the same as the minimum amount of exercise needed to promote and maintain physical health (to reduce the risk of chronic disease, for example) specified in the guidelines of such organisations as the American Heart Association and the World Health Organisation, which recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, that is, 30 minutes 5 days a week.

The physical activity involved in cycling to work was almost the same as the minimum amount of exercise needed to promote and maintain physical health

As nearly half of all car trips in Europe are under five kilometres, a shift to the bicycle as a mode of transport would be a cost-effective intervention if a suitable infrastructure exists. Bicycle commuting not only helps to integrate physical activity into our daily lives, it also cuts down the incidence of traffic accidents and reduces pollution, noise levels and the occupation of public space.

So, we need to get moving!

[This text was originally published in Spanish in El País - Planeta Futuro]