We’ve long known riding to work will add years to your life by maintaining your health and fitness, and now there is strong evidence that commuting by bike cuts the risk of cancer and heart disease by almost half.
A study published recently in the British Medical Journal showed that people who ride a bike to work have better health outcomes over any other method of commuting – including walking.
This is of particular interest in the ACT, where we have very low rates of commuter cycling despite some of the highest recreational-cycling participation in the country.
The authors of the study explained their methods in an article in The Conversation:
“We followed people for around five years, counting the incidences of heart disease, cancers and death. Importantly, we adjusted for other health influences including sex, age, deprivation, ethnicity, smoking, body mass index, other types of physical activity, time spent sitting down and diet. Any potential differences in risk associated with road accidents is also accounted for in our analysis, while we excluded participants who had heart disease or cancer already.
“We found that cycling to work was associated with a 41% lower risk of dying overall compared to commuting by car or public transport. Cycle commuters had a 52% lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 40% lower risk of dying from cancer. They also had 46% lower risk of developing heart disease and a 45% lower risk of developing cancer at all.”
The study is the largest of its type ever conducted, involving a quarter of a million participants. The numbers demonstrate a clear link between active travel commutes and health benefits.
It should be noted that the study accounted for road accidents as a major risk to vulnerable road users like bike riders, and yet people who ride bikes are still far ahead of other commuters in terms of health and longevity.
In the ACT, only a very small percentage of the population ride their bikes to work. Given our reputation as one of the most bike-friendly places in Australia, and the indisputable benefits that riding to work brings to both individuals who participate, and society as a whole, this is disappointing.
We all know that commuting by bike can save time and money spent on parking and the gym, is good for the environment and allows commuters to multitask by staying fit while travelling to work. So why don’t more people do it?
Cycling advocacy organisation Pedal Power ACT recently introduced an initiative called Cycle Works, hoping to encourage more Canberrans to give riding to work a try. The possibility of winning a new bike has proved almost as large an incentive as the promise of better health.
The ACT Government also facilitates and promotes riding to work through the Active Travel Office, which held Canberra Walk and Ride Week in March to encourage walking, riding and catching public transport.
The Government has compelling motivation to get more Canberrans riding to work. Increased cycle commuting population-wide will reduce pressure on the health system and road networks, reduce pollution and make the ACT a better place to live.
The health benefits alone could save taxpayers billions of dollars by increasing daily physical activity and reversing the current trend towards more sedentary lifestyles.
Following Canberra Walk and Ride Week, the Active Travel Office has recently introduced four new Park and Pedal locations to encourage mixed-mode active travel – that is, driving to a location closer to work, and then riding a bike the rest of the way.
With all the incentives on offer – not least of which is a longer, healthier life – if you don’t ride to work, why not?
Anne Treasure is the Communications Manager for Pedal Power ACT. She writes on bike riding in the ACT from the perspective of someone who rides mainly for transport.