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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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davel [1242 posts] 2 months ago
1 like
Rich_cb wrote:

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.

Exactly this: it's a big drum to be banged in Australia etc, in addition to the UK, and its findings are black and white for anyone concerned with national or local health.

Beyond that, it was fairly widely publicised. It's great news - it's got a really clear message for individuals: cycling will likely allay some of the really nasty and prevalent causes of death. Just as we head into summer we get a preachable headline that might appeal to selfish bastards who would drive to their desk if they could: you can live longer, or maybe not go the same way you saw your dad or aunt go, or maybe give your fat kids a fair crack even if you can't drag yourself to the garage and your bike that is never used.

We're in thrall to the death machines: might be mindless optimism, but I really hope this study is regularly wheeled-out this summer.

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unconstituted [2355 posts] 2 months ago
1 like

@davel this summer's f**ked. Snap election, then the July-Sept recess. Khan and Grayling about to get a free pass for doing sweet FA for cycling and road safety. 

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FluffyKittenofT... [1582 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes
riotgibbon wrote:

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 ...

The DM commenters really surpass themselves on this one. Hard at work frantically erecting fortified walls of nonsense and mangled-logic, in order to keep the truth from breaching fort petrolhead.

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FluffyKittenofT... [1582 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes
davel wrote:
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.

I think the disagreement is because 'less likely to die from any cause' is an intrinsically ambiguous phrase. The English language isn't as precise as maths, I guess.

Does it mean every cause of death is individually less likely, or that the total likelihood of death (summed over all causes) is less? The two would be expressed differently in maths but come out the same in English.

It obviously is intended to mean the latter but a pedant could could interpret it as the former.

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wellsprop [182 posts] 2 months ago
1 like
FluffyKittenofTindalos wrote:
davel wrote:
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.

I think the disagreement is because 'less likely to die from any cause' is an intrinsically ambiguous phrase. The English language isn't as precise as maths, I guess. Does it mean every cause of death is individually less likely, or that the total likelihood of death (summed over all causes) is less? The two would be expressed differently in maths but come out the same in English. It obviously is intended to mean the latter but a pedant could could interpret it as the former.

Fluffy know's what I'm on about  10

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leathers [9 posts] 2 months ago
7 likes

This is a great piece of research which, given the sheer number of people involved, provides extremely reliable data.  However, don't be fooled into thinking that this means you won't have a heart attack if you ride more than 30miles/week!  What the study did was to count the number of deaths from cancer or CVD (cardiovascular disease) who ride to work in comparison with people who don't.  It also made the same comparison for "events" ie heart attacks and so on.

During the study period 1110 people had CVD events (eg heart attacks, angina etc).  But the key thing was that they were less likely to die as a result of their riding habits.  Speaking as someone who has done 7000 communting miles in the last two years but had a heart attack three months ago  (whilst riding to work), I can attest to the fact that having a strong heart muscle has helped my recovery enormously.

Today I will be riding to work again for the first time since that day.

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HowardR [132 posts] 2 months ago
1 like
alansmurphy wrote:

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

 

Or....."erotic cyclist not wearing helmet causes bus to crash"...

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burtthebike [806 posts] 2 months ago
2 likes
Rich_cb wrote:

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.

Actually the findings of this report are extremely credible, given that there have been many such reports over the past fifty years, all saying the same thing: regular exercise is vital for good health and longevity.

There have also been studies into the costs of increased ill health in Australia and New Zealand, which show that the helmet laws have been a disaster in public health terms, not reducing the death rate of cyclists, but significantly increasing it for the general population.

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Deeferdonk [23 posts] 2 months ago
2 likes

Cyclists are more likely to be healthy ....

or ....

Healthy people are more likely to be cyclists....

-probably a bit of both.

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davel [1242 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes
unconstituted wrote:

@davel this summer's f**ked. Snap election, then the July-Sept recess. Khan and Grayling about to get a free pass for doing sweet FA for cycling and road safety. 

 1 I'm sure that's depressingly accurate! Accurately depressing? Both probably.

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PaulBox [644 posts] 2 months ago
1 like
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   

Do you hold the handrail while walking down the stairs?

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FluffyKittenofT... [1582 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes
Deeferdonk wrote:

Cyclists are more likely to be healthy ....

or ....

Healthy people are more likely to be cyclists....

-probably a bit of both.

The study claims to have corrected for pre-existing health conditions.

Probably not possible to correct for all of them though. I mean, someone might have an undiagnosed condition which deters them from active commuting (without even consciously realising it). E.g. too knackered to walk - later turns out it's due to undiagnosed diabetes.

But, still, seems as if it's more down to active commuters being healthier than the reverse.

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FluffyKittenofT... [1582 posts] 2 months ago
1 like
PaulBox wrote:
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   

Do you hold the handrail while walking down the stairs?

And do you wear a helmet when doing so? (High viz _probably_ not necessary)

Avatar
CyclingPreacher [3 posts] 2 months ago
2 likes
FluffyKittenofTindalos wrote:
PaulBox wrote:
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   

Do you hold the handrail while walking down the stairs?

And do you wear a helmet when doing so? (High viz _probably_ not necessary)

 

high viz definitely necessary if you have 4 YOs in the house. 

Avatar
burtthebike [806 posts] 2 months ago
1 like
davel wrote:
burtthebike wrote:

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.

Seems perfectly clear to me: regular cyclists live two years longer than average, that's one proven fact.  Another proven fact is that they suffer less from all forms of illness.  I haven't equated the two which are quite discrete and different.  Nowhere did I mention "all forms of death" you invented it.

I hope your neck gets better soon.

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beezus fufoon [673 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes

on average women live 8 years longer than men - I'm not convinced this is a good reason for gender reassignment - the cost of new saddles alone makes it somewhat prohibitive

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Awavey [287 posts] 2 months ago
1 like
FluffyKittenofTindalos wrote:

Do you hold the handrail while walking down the stairs?

And do you wear a helmet when doing so? (High viz _probably_ not necessary)[/quote]

Whilst wearing cycling shoes?,absoflippinlutely, can glide down staircases in 4inch heels no problem,put on cycling shoes with cleats on and I'm like Bambi on ice down stairs

And yes I was wearing a helmet,but I'd actually recommend paying more attention to increased padding for the back & posterior

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brooksby [2230 posts] 2 months ago
0 likes

I feel something is missing from this discussion: where is our resident troll (applecart/bikelikebike/willo) to tell us all that it's all rubbish and we're going to all die in twenty four hours or something?

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