The European Society of Cardiology has released the findings of a recent study conducted among cyclists in Copenhagen, Denmark, showing that it's relative intensity of exercise rather than duration that's the key to significant health benefits, particularly with reference to the heart.
The conclusion is that men who cycle intensely and quickly live on average 5.3 years longer, and men with average cycling intensity 2.9 years longer, than men with a slow measured pace of pedalling. For women, the figures equated to 3.9 years longer for speedy ladies, and 2.2 years for average pace.
Various factors were taken into consideration during the study, including age and BMI of individuals, alcohol intake and other forms of exercise taken. The benefits to health, including those you'd expect like reduction in obesity, lowering of blood pressure and cholesterol and improvement of oxygen capacity were all much more marked when the pace of exercise was quicker and more intense rather than slower.
Current recommendations are for 30 minutes or more of moderate physical exercise every day for an adult. These latest findings suggest that the intensity and duration now may need to be adjusted for the absolute optimization of health benefits.
Professor Peter Schnor, who led the research in Copenhagen, states "this study suggests that a greater part of the daily physical activity in leisure time should be vigourous, based on the individual's own perception of intensity."
But, according to The Daily Mail, Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation, has concerns about underlying medical conditions and taking up exercise from scratch at a higher level than would previously have been seen as beneficial. "If regular cyclists want to cycle faster that's one thing, but I would be concerned about a general message that short and sharp is better than long and slow."
"Intense exercise puts a huge load on the heart and this could be a problem for people with heart disease or who are unused to exercise."
So, it looks like everyone should get out on their bike slowly to start with and once fit enough, make every trip a time trial.