What are the health benefits of cycle commuting?

As cycle commuters, we know that cycling ought to bring out some health benefits as we have exercising on our way to work and back.  But to what extent?  In this article, we look at scientific studies that have tried to quantify the health benefits of cycling commuting.

Positives for preventing cancer and cardiovascular diseases

But a Recent study from A British medical Journal notes that cycling to work has many more health benefits. In this article, we take a look at the health benefits of cycle commuting.

Cycle commuting is not very common in the UK. A study found that only 3% of commuters cycle to  work which is one of the lowest rates in Europe while looking at the highest, 43% dutch and 30% danish cycle daily.

During this study, they tracked (263,450) people for five years from England, Scotland or Wales who traveled to and from work.

The study of these people got to work was broken down into the following categories:

  • Public transit or both

  • Walking

  • Cycling or cycling plus some walking

  • Mixture of walking with car and/or public transit

  • Mixture of cycling or cycling plus some walking with car and/or public transit

Illness and death were measured within each of these categories. The study noted that cancer and cardiovascular disease are the leading causes of death in both the UK and the US.

While there are many factors that cause cancer and cardiovascular diseases, researchers went to many lengths to keep control of these factors.

The study found people who commuted to work via a bicycle, had a 41% lower risk of dying from all causes than people that  used public transport or drove. While they also had a 46% lower chance and 52% lower risk of dying from a cardiovascular disease. The study also found that there was a 40% lower risk of dying from cancer.

People that mixed cycling, or cycling plus walking with car and/or public transport, showed the benefits weren't as large. The study found these people had a 24% lower risk of dying from the noted causes. While they also had a lower risk (32%) of developing and dying (36%) from cancer.

While these two studies showed cycling had the best outcome in terms of health benefits, walking also reduced the risk of developing cancer by 27% and cardiovascular disease by 36% risk.

A separate study in Götenborg in Sweden showed that prostate cancer cell growth could be suppressed by 30% with 1hour per day of cycling. During the study, the Danish researchers placed mice with various cancer cells on running wheels. The exercising mice compared to that of the non exercising mice reduced the rate of the tumour growth by 60-70%.

The study showed that commuting with a bicycle, in particular, provide significant health benefits over other types of commuting, while preventing 'lifestyle' diseases. Similar studies of the health benefits of exercise have established that just one session of moderate exercise can stimulate the immune system. Which in turn produces an anti-inflammatory cellular response and that exercise namely cycle commuting can have a significant role in preventing and treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases.

Approximately 90% of bicycle commuters achieved the current physical guidelines, that of walkers only met 54% of the recommended guidelines and approximately only 50% of mixed walking commuters did. Which was similar that that of non-active commuters (51%).

It shouldn't come as no surprise that that physical activity and exercise is good for you, What has surprised many people is just how good this can be for your health. The quantum of physical activity which is required for obesity prevention is between 60-90mins per day of physical activity. Meaning cycle commuting to and from work can achieve this amount of physical activity needed to stay fit and healthy.

City dwellers are also much more likely  get in the required amount of exercise if they commute by bicycle. Without cycling, many people cannot find the 150 mins of weekly moderate physical activity needed to be healthy.

Health benefits of cycle commuting for Diabetics

A recent study from Sydney showed that commuting daily or riding a bike will improve artery health in people that have Type-2 diabetes. While a Team from Denmark and USA studied a group of 50 000 men and woman with the age between 50-65 in cities throughout Denmark where cycle commuting was prevalent.

They found that regular cyclists were 20% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes than those who routinely cycled. While the meta-analysis (1,245,904 non-diabetic individuals from the USA, Asia, Australia and Europe) included 26% reduction in the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. When the equivalent of 150 minutes per week of moderate activity was met. Which is the minimum amount stated by the public health guidelines.

Consistency is key

While all the results are positive, the health benefits work best when cycling is done consistently on a daily basis.  This means that occassional cycling, for example once a week, won't get you to achieve the minimum amount of physical activity quoted by public health guidelines.

But regular physical activity such as bike riding is the closest thing in the fight against obesity and cardiovascular disease, while also helping to prevent such diseases as:

  • blood pressure

  • cholesterol

  • diabetes

  • heart attacks

  • strokes

  • colon cancer

  • breast and prostate cancer

  • arthritis

While we all have a problem with our busy lives fitting in the adequate training time. Studies have shown that riding a bike for transport is likely to make you six times healthier than if you traveled by car or public transport.

Cover Photo by ACM Brasília / CC BY