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More than 1,000 patients have been referred to scheme which uses cycle training to improve physical and mental health

A scheme allowing people with long-term health conditions to be prescribed a 12-week cycle training course could be rolled out across the country following a successful pilot in West Yorkshire.

Since the Cycle for Health Scheme was introduced four years ago, more than 1,000 patients have been referred to it by healthcare professionals including GP surgeries, hospitals, clinical commissioning groups and mental health charities.

Cycling UK has partnered with West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) to deliver the initiative, which forms part of the latter’s CityConnect scheme.

According to the charity, participants in the scheme over the past year “showed considerable improvements in mental wellbeing, with people reporting a 32 per cent increase in confidence, a 29 per cent increase in feeling close to others and a 26 per cent increase in feeling relaxed.”

Tom Murray, Cycling UK Senior Project Officer, commented: “The feedback from people who’ve been on the scheme is overwhelmingly positive, and over the course of 12 weeks we can see huge improvements in both their physical and mental health.

“It doesn’t matter if they could ride a bike before they came to us, our programme teaches them all sorts of skills from learning to ride through to going out in groups, using hand signals, checking for traffic and road positioning. And the confidence that gives them is very often life changing.”

One participant, 47-year-old Andrea from Wakefield, who suffers from anxiety, has difficulty communicating with other people and tends to withdraw from society said that the scheme had improved her confidence and helped her make friends.

She said: “I’m more confident. I’m able to be out with other people more than I would normally. My fitness has improved, my lung function is a lot better than it has been and now I actually want to go out and do other things, and keep cycling, keep active and really start living my life.”

Another participant, Dan, aged 31 and from Featherstone, said that taking part in the scheme had helped him cope with anxiety and depression following a bereavement.

 “You lose enjoyment in life and the things you used to enjoy doing,” he said. “You stop living, pretty much, and just get very low, not wanting to get out of bed or to do much. It’s not a good way to live.”

However,  he added: “You might have a bad week and you’ve had this to look forward to, and you’d come here and you might feel a little bit low, feel a bit tired, a bit drained but you’d leave it feeling invigorated and energetic. You might be a little bit sore but it’s a very positive thing.”

Councillor Kim Groves, who chairs WYCA’s transport committee, said: “We often hear cycling described as a “magic pill” or “miracle pill”, something that can help make people happier and healthier, live longer and cut public health costs, followed by questions about why it’s not being prescribed to the nation.

“Our Cycle for Health scheme is leading the way and this demonstrates the scale of our ambition, not only in encouraging more people to travel by bike, but also ensuring our residents are given the tools they need to lead happier, healthier lives. 

“What’s more, over a third (42 per cent) of the people who’ve taken part in the scheme during the past year live in some of the most disadvantaged areas in the country*, proving schemes like this are helping tackle health inequalities where it matters most.”  

Cycling UK said that since the initial pilot in West Yorkshire, trials had also been held in London, Manchester and Wales, with head of development Jenny Box expressing the hope that the initiative could be rolled out nationwide.

"Cycling UK has always known cycling can help people with both their physical and mental wellbeing – and in West Yorkshire we've now got the evidence,” she explained.

"We would love to be able to bring the gift of cycling to other parts of the country and help other people on to the path to recovery."

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.