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Five-year study looked at travel habits and health of more than 250,000 people across the UK

 

A study of more than a quarter of a million people across the UK has found that cycling to work slashes the risk of contracting heart disease and cancer. An editorial in the BMJ, which published the study, says its findings “are a clear call for political action on active commuting.”

Researchers from the University of Glasgow found that compared to people who commuted by car or on public transport, regular commuter cyclists were 41 per cent less likely to die from any cause.

But the results were even more startling when it came to cancer and heart disease, with cyclists respectively 45 per cent and 46 per cent less likely to die from those causes.

Benefits, albeit much less pronounced, were also found among people who walked to work, or who combined walking or cycling with public transport.

On average, participants who cycled to work rode 30 miles a week – but researchers found that the greater the weekly distance ridden, the higher the impact on health.

One of the academics involved in the study, Dr Jason Gill, told BBC News that while going to the gym to keep fit needs discipline, riding a bike to work becomes a more natural part of the daily routine.

"This is really clear evidence that people who commute in an active way, particularly by cycling, were at lower risk,” he said

"You need to get to work every day so if you built cycling into the day it essentially takes willpower out of the equation.

"What we really need to do is change our infrastructure to make it easier to cycle - we need bike lanes, to make it easier to put bikes on trains, showers at work."

The study is the largest ever undertaken into the issue, with 263,450 participants.

During the five-year period, 2,430 participants died, 496 of them from heart disease and 1,126 from cancer. In all, 3,748 people who took part in the study were diagnosed with cancer and 1,110 with heart disease.

While the methodology employed means researchers are unable to establish clear cause and effect, they said the benefits of cycle commuting were still apparent once results had been adjusted for issues such as diet, smoking, or the subject’s weight.

The findings tie in with previous research which has clearly established the health benefits of commuting by bike.

> Recreational and commuter cycling appear to reduce heart attack risk according to two recent studies

Commuting by bike has also been found to result in a happier - and more productive - workforce.

The way the study was carried out means it is not possible to determine a clear cause and effect.

However, the effect was still there even after adjusting the statistics to remove the effects of other potential explanations like smoking, diet or how heavy people are.

In an editorial in the BMJ related to the study, Professor Lars Bo Andersen of the Western Norwegian University of Applied Sciences in Bergen said: “The UK has neglected to build infrastructure to promote cycling for decades and the potential for improvements to increase cycling and the safety of cycling is huge.

“Cities such as Copenhagen have prioritised cycling by building bike lanes; tunnels for bikes, so cyclists do not need to pass heavy traffic; and bridges over the harbour to shorten travel time for pedestrians and cyclists. Today, no car or bus can travel faster than a bike through Copenhagen.”

He continued: “It will take decades to change commuter culture in the UK, but it is possible, and changes in commuter behaviour can occur quickly when active travel is seen as both safe and convenient.

“The findings from this study are a clear call for political action on active commuting, which has the potential to improve public health by preventing common (and costly) non-communicable diseases.

“A shift from car to more active modes of travel will also decrease traffic in congested city centres and help reduce air pollution, with further benefits for health,” Professor Andersen concluded.

 

 

http://www.bmj.com/content/357/bmj.j1740

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

48 comments

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Rich_cb [306 posts] 4 months ago
24 likes

Regular exercise is good for you?

I am shocked.

Shocked.

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unconstituted [2341 posts] 4 months ago
7 likes

Have to agree with Rich. This is all highly suspect.

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Grahamd [544 posts] 4 months ago
8 likes

The study looks far too small and over too short a period to be meaningful to any UK minister, for either health or transport to take seriously.

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wellsprop [243 posts] 4 months ago
2 likes

 "compared to people who commuted by car or on public transport, regular commuter cyclists were 41 per cent less likely to die from any cause"

I'm often dubious of statistics, more so the way they are worded when trying to prove a point, what exactly does "any" mean?

I'm fairly certain regular commuter cyclists are more likely to die in a bicycle crash than those who commute in motor vehicles.

Vice versa, I'm pretty certain bus passengers are more likely to die in a bus crash than someone who cycles to work.

 3

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riotgibbon [228 posts] 4 months ago
2 likes

I read this in a cafe in the Daily Mail:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4427142/Cycling-work-halves-risk...

see, they can do it if they try ...

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PaulBox [665 posts] 4 months ago
2 likes
wellsprop wrote:

 I'm fairly certain regular commuter cyclists are more likely to die in a bicycle crash than those who commute in motor vehicles.

Vice versa, I'm pretty certain bus passengers are more likely to die in a bus crash than someone who cycles to work.

For clarification, if a bus crashes in to a cyclist, is it a bus crash or a bicycle crash?

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flathunt [244 posts] 4 months ago
1 like

So I'm 41% less likely to die of old age? Get this thing away from me!

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alansmurphy [584 posts] 4 months ago
2 likes

Paul - that's easy "erratic cyclist not wearing helmet causes bus to crash"...

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brooksby [2390 posts] 4 months ago
6 likes

Isn't one of their points that cycling to work (or walking to work) is an easy way of slotting regular moderate exercise into your day without having to actually make a specific effort to go to the gym (even one of bikelikebike (or was it applecart's? - ah, they're the same person anyway) claimed 1 shilling per decade gym memberships).  Makes sense to me - I'd never be able to fit "proper" gym exercise into my day, but I can cycle to work because I'm going that way anyway...

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Simmo72 [650 posts] 4 months ago
1 like

Next week there will be an article claiming working from home reduces heart disease and cancer*

 

*durng trials on mice, badgers

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fretters [53 posts] 4 months ago
1 like
alansmurphy wrote:

Paul - that's easy "erratic cyclist not wearing helmet causes bus to crash"...

 

more like

"erratic road tax avoiding uninsured cyclist not wearing helmet or hi vis causes bus to crash by daring to cycle more than 3 mm from the kerb to avoid pothole he should have cycled through and acting like he owned the road " 

 

 

 

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alansmurphy [584 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes

It's catchy  1

 

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rliu [98 posts] 4 months ago
3 likes

I always feel that naughty glow of schadenfreude when I see people literally sprinting out of the office at 5 to get a few minutes on the traffic or train queues, then arrive home to read about another London station mania due to peak hour trains cancelled due to signal failures. Perhaps schadenfreude produces anti cancer cells?

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BudgieBike [9 posts] 4 months ago
1 like

Help!!  I work from home so difficult to ride bike down stairs to desk, Office when I do visit is 50 miles away in Central London.  But do 75 to 100k on bike  weekly just for kicks 

Where do I fit in ? Will I die 37% or 23% earlier   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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unconstituted [2341 posts] 4 months ago
11 likes
BudgieBike wrote:

Help!!  I work from home so difficult to ride bike down stairs to desk, Office when I do visit is 50 miles away in Central London.  But do 75 to 100k on bike  weekly just for kicks 

Where do I fit in ? Will I die 37% or 23% earlier   

 

37x23 = 851

√851 = 29.1719042916

 

You're going to die in 29 days.

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Grahamd [544 posts] 4 months ago
2 likes

Help!!  I work from home so difficult to ride bike down stairs to desk, Office when I do visit is 50 miles away in Central London.  But do 75 to 100k on bike  weekly just for kicks 

Where do I fit in ? Will I die 37% or 23% earlier  /

Whilst I have no medical training I am concerned for you. A cyclist that talks in miles and km...

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Innerlube [24 posts] 4 months ago
4 likes

Great study!!

will keep on file ready to ping to those who tell me that it's far too dangerous to cycle to work.

Not as dangerous as sitting in your car bus train!!

Cycle commuters less likely to die of cardiovascular diseases or cancer, so that's the two main killer causes reduced, plus also less likely to die of anything else (I.e. Of all causes of death combined)

 

 

 

Only disappointment is that the study was too underpowered to tell us the different mortality rates in helmet and disc brake users....

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the little onion [160 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes

You can access the study here - fascinating stuff: http://eprints.gla.ac.uk/138376/7/138376.pdf

 

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Tommytrucker [61 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes

Nice to read all the comments from the blinkered motorists on the bbc website having a field day about this....

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WolfieSmith [1380 posts] 4 months ago
5 likes

The same team spent a month in Rome following a man in a white robe and can now confirm that the Pope is indeed Catholic. They are now travelling to Canada to study what bears do in the woods... I await their findings with interest.

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ConcordeCX [332 posts] 4 months ago
3 likes
wellsprop wrote:

 "compared to people who commuted by car or on public transport, regular commuter cyclists were 41 per cent less likely to die from any cause"

I'm often dubious of statistics, more so the way they are worded when trying to prove a point, what exactly does "any" mean?

I'm fairly certain regular commuter cyclists are more likely to die in a bicycle crash than those who commute in motor vehicles.

Vice versa, I'm pretty certain bus passengers are more likely to die in a bus crash than someone who cycles to work.

 3

it means "41 per cent less likely to die.".

Ever.

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wellsprop [243 posts] 4 months ago
1 like
PaulBox wrote:
wellsprop wrote:

 I'm fairly certain regular commuter cyclists are more likely to die in a bicycle crash than those who commute in motor vehicles.

Vice versa, I'm pretty certain bus passengers are more likely to die in a bus crash than someone who cycles to work.

For clarification, if a bus crashes in to a cyclist, is it a bus crash or a bicycle crash?

 

I imagine it depends on whether the cyclist is wearing a helmet or not  10

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srchar [541 posts] 4 months ago
3 likes
rliu wrote:

another London station mania due to peak hour trains cancelled

How smug I felt as I walked past Canary Wharf tube station to my waiting bicycle this evening... closed due to severe delays on the line. I know I shouldn't but... tee hee! And they think we're mental!

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Jack Osbourne snr [675 posts] 4 months ago
2 likes

Add to this, the "cycling reverses liver damage caused by alcohol" study from last year and it looks like most of us that cycle to work will be very nearly immortal*.

 

*If you don't hear from me within 7 days of this post, you must conclude that I have finally been unable to avoid a private hire cab on a mission.

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burtthebike [922 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes
wellsprop wrote:

 "compared to people who commuted by car or on public transport, regular commuter cyclists were 41 per cent less likely to die from any cause"

I'm often dubious of statistics, more so the way they are worded when trying to prove a point, what exactly does "any" mean?

I'm fairly certain regular commuter cyclists are more likely to die in a bicycle crash than those who commute in motor vehicles.

Vice versa, I'm pretty certain bus passengers are more likely to die in a bus crash than someone who cycles to work.

 3

Well, the BMA report "Cycling Towards Health and Safety" by Mayer Hillman published about thirty years ago, found that regular cyclists lived on average two years longer, and suffered less from all forms of illness.

Which bit of "any" didn't you understand?

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burtthebike [922 posts] 4 months ago
0 likes
flathunt wrote:

So I'm 41% less likely to die of old age? Get this thing away from me!

Nobody has ever died from "old age".  Regular cyclists live two years longer than average and suffer less from all forms of illness and have a better quality of life in old age.

I'm sorry, your point was?

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brooksby [2390 posts] 4 months ago
4 likes
burtthebike wrote:

Nobody has ever died from "old age". 

Unless they had this red crystal implanted in the palm of their hand.

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brooksby [2390 posts] 4 months ago
2 likes
Jack Osbourne snr wrote:

Add to this, the "cycling reverses liver damage caused by alcohol" study from last year ...

Is that a real thing? Oh thank f- for that!

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Rich_cb [306 posts] 4 months ago
1 like

The findings of this study are actually pretty incredible.

If all the non active commuters studied had switched to cycle commuting there would have been 565 fewer deaths over the 5 year study period.

So, over a 5 year period, for every 330 people who switch to cycle commuting from driving you will save one life.

That would also work in reverse I assume.

So, in countries which have introduced laws that have reduced the cycling rate we can now reasonably quantify how many of their citizens have died as a result.

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davel [1489 posts] 4 months ago
2 likes
burtthebike wrote:
wellsprop wrote:

 "compared to people who commuted by car or on public transport, regular commuter cyclists were 41 per cent less likely to die from any cause"

I'm often dubious of statistics, more so the way they are worded when trying to prove a point, what exactly does "any" mean?

I'm fairly certain regular commuter cyclists are more likely to die in a bicycle crash than those who commute in motor vehicles.

Vice versa, I'm pretty certain bus passengers are more likely to die in a bus crash than someone who cycles to work.

 3

Well, the BMA report "Cycling Towards Health and Safety" by Mayer Hillman published about thirty years ago, found that regular cyclists lived on average two years longer, and suffered less from all forms of illness.

Which bit of "any" didn't you understand?

I'm not sure that you've got such a great grasp of 'any' yourself. You appear to have equated 'all forms of illness' with 'all forms of death'.

You see, it is possible to die of other causes: a piano falling from a hoist during removal, or over-extension of one's neck due to not appreciating when to wind it in, say.

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