An ongoing study into people’s transport choices in seven European cities, including London, has found that as a way of travelling in an urban environment, cycling has the greatest benefits for both physical and mental wellbeing.
Led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) and published in the journal Environment International, it’s by no means the first study to reach such a conclusion, and it certainly won’t be the last.
The study is part of the EU funded PASTA project, which quizzed residents of seven European cities – Antwerp, Barcelona, London, Örebro, Rome, Vienna and Zurich – about their travel choices, and how they perceived their health.
More than 8,800 respondents completed a baseline questionnaire, of whom 3,500 also completed a final survey, with the modes of transport asked about being car, motorbike, public transport, bicycle, electric bicycle and walking.
In each analysis of the results, cycling came out top – people had a better perception of their general and mental health, had more vitality, lower self-perceived stress and felt less loneliness.
Lead author Ione Avila-Palencia of ISGlobal said: “Previous studies have either analysed transport modes in isolation or compared various transport modes to each other.
“Ours is the first study to associate the use of multiple urban transport modes with health effects such as mental health and social contact.
“This approach allowed us to analyse the effects more realistically, since today’s city dwellers tend to use more than one mode of transport.”
She continued: “It also allowed us to highlight the positive effect of walking, which in previous studies was not very conclusive.”
Nor were there concrete conclusions regarding modes of transport besides cycling and walking, which was found to have the second-greatest benefits.
“Driving and public-transport use were associated with poor self-perceived general health when the transport modes were analysed separately, but this effect disappeared in the multiple-mode analyses,” she said.
“The findings were similar in all of the cities we studied. This suggests that active transport—especially cycling—should be encouraged in order to improve health and increase social interaction.”
She added that since cycling’s modal share “remains low in all European cities, except in countries like the Netherlands and Denmark, which means that there is plenty of room to increase bicycle use.”
Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, co-ordinator of the study and director of the Urban Planning, Environment and Health Initiative at ISGlobal, said: “Transport is not just a matter of mobility; it also has to do with public health and the well-being of the population.”
He said that the study showed that “an integrated approach to urban planning, transport planning and public health is needed in order to develop policies that promote active transport, such as adding more segregated cycle lanes in Barcelona, which are transforming the city into a better environment for cyclists.”
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.