Cycling is an easy and low-impact activity which can significantly improve individual fitness and which has the potential to have a major impact on public health. It can help to reduce the risk of a range of health problems, notably heart disease and cancer, the leading preventable causes of premature death.
In a country like the US, where obesityis at epidemic levels among adults and, more tragically, young people, one of the main benefits of cycling is that people can do it as part of their normal daily activity – by cycling to work, to see friends or to the shops – rather than having to create additional time for exercise.
One study found that people who cycle to work experienced a 39% lower rate of mortality compared to those who did not – even after adjustment for other risk factors, including leisure time physical activity. Getting on your bike can yield much the same health benefits as a specific training program. Cycling for an 30 minutes on most days of the week, combined with reducing calorie intake, can achieve weight loss comparable to that achieved by doing multiple aerobic classes a week. As well as improving physical health, cycling has a positive affect on emotional health –improving levels of well-being, self-confidence and tolerance to stress while reducing tiredness, difficulties with sleep and a range of medical symptoms.
One of the barriers to taking up cycling is a perception of the physical danger posed by motor traffic. However, the real risks are low and are signifcantly outweighed by the health benefits. It may be more risky to your health to be sedentary.
It’s vital for the health of the nation – and the health of the planet – that health and transport professionals focus on positive actions to encourage cycling, especially where a cycle journey will replace a car journey. Local and State transport and health authorities need to recognize the potential of cycling to improve many aspects of public health, and to make it part of a healthy transport strategy, devising safe cycling policies and promoting the use of cycling – by children and adults alike –on a daily basis.