Cycling to work ‘halves your risk of heart disease and cancer’

Daily cycling appears to reduce our risk of premature death by 40 per cent, according to a study carried out at Glasgow University.

Researchers looked at health and fitness data from over 250,000 people who had an average age of 52 at the beginning of the five-year study period. Those who cycled to work had a 45 per cent lower chance of developing cancer, and half the risk of heart disease.

During the study, 37 people who travelled to work by bicycle died. The researchers said this number would have been closer to 63 if they had all used public transport or cars.

The researchers, writing in the British Medical Journal, said that cycling was better at increasing longevity than other forms of exercise because it was high intensity, and because cyclists tended to cover greater distances than walkers or runners.

But commuting by foot was also associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

Dr Jason Gill, the study’s lead author, said: ‘Cycling all or part of the way to work was associated with substantially lower risk of adverse health outcomes.

‘If these associations are causal, these findings suggest that policies designed to make it easier for people to commute by bike, such as cycle lanes, city bike hire, subsidised cycle purchase schemes and increasing provision for cycles on public transport, may present major opportunities for public health improvement.’

Currently about four per cent of adults commute to work by bike. Last month the government said it hoped to double the number of cyclists on the road by 2025.

Instant analysis
There are several things to consider here. There was a good sample size, with a large amount of data, but the study was observational and does not prove cause and effect. There may also be inaccuracies in the reporting of data.

Needless to say, it is not surprising that active commuters are healthier than non-active commuters. It would be interesting to compare whether people who don’t cycle but engage in other exercise (of similar intensity) have similar results. There are also confounding factors that make it hard to know for sure whether the link was causal; however, there are clear benefits to increased exercise and fitness and we should, of course, be doing all we can to encourage this and to make cycling to work safer.
MB
Research score: 3/5