Health & Wellbeing

Major study finds association between cycling to work and longer life

Major study finds association ...
Analysis of Census data in the UK has revealed that commuters who cycled to work had a 20-percent reduced rate of early death compared to those who drove
Analysis of Census data in the UK has revealed that commuters who cycled to work had a 20-percent reduced rate of early death compared to those who drove
View 1 Image
Analysis of Census data in the UK has revealed that commuters who cycled to work had a 20-percent reduced rate of early death compared to those who drove
1/1
Analysis of Census data in the UK has revealed that commuters who cycled to work had a 20-percent reduced rate of early death compared to those who drove

Scientists in the UK have tapped 25 years worth of Census data to track the habits and health outcomes of hundreds of thousands of commuters, finding an association between those who avoid daily car travel and a lower risk of early death. Cycling, walking or catching the train to work was linked to reductions in the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease, with the authors joining a chorus of experts encouraging commuters to embrace greener transport methods as the COVID-19 lockdowns begin to ease.

The research was carried out by scientists from Imperial College London and the University of Cambridge, who looked at Census data concerning 300,000 commuters in England and Wales between 1991 and 2016.

This analysis revealed that the commuters who cycled to work had a 20-percent reduced rate of early death compared to those who drove, and a 24-percent reduced rate of death from cardiovascular disease. The team also found a 16-percent reduction in rates of death from cancer and an 11-percent reduction in cancer diagnosis among this group.

Walking to work was associated with a seven-percent reduction in cancer diagnosis rates. People catching the train, meanwhile, had a 10-percent reduced rate of early death, along with a 20-percent reduced rate of death from cardiovascular disease and a 12-percent reduced rate of cancer diagnosis.

These results, comparing health outcomes in cyclists and walkers to daily drivers, are consistent with a line of recent studies highlighting the benefits of active commuting.

A 2017 paper by researchers at the University of Glasgow looked at the commuting habits of 263,000 people over five years in the UK, and found biking to work was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, or dying of any cause during the study period. Another 2015 study at the University of Utrecht concluded that cycling prevents around 6,500 deaths in the Netherlands each year, and adds another six months to the life expectancy of the typical Dutch person.

While the health benefits are clear and well documented through previous literature, the authors of the new study note its value in tracking a larger cohort of people over a much longer timeframe. Importantly, the study did not consider the dietary or smoking habits of the subjects, nor their other exercise habits or health concerns, so it’s not as simple as saying cycling to work is the key to a long and healthy life.

But with such large numbers and a strong observed decline in various negative health outcomes, the study further strengthens the association between active commuting and reduced risk of early death. It also comes at a time when many cities around the world are actively encouraging citizens to take up cycling or walking to work where possible, with mass transit facing an uncertain near-future and a huge shift toward car commuting not a viable solution.

“As large numbers of people begin to return to work as the COVID-19 lockdown eases, it is a good time for everyone to rethink their transport choices,” says Dr Richard Patterson from the University of Cambridge, who led the research. “With severe and prolonged limits in public transport capacity likely, switching to private car use would be disastrous for our health and the environment. Encouraging more people to walk and cycle will help limit the longer-term consequences of the pandemic.”

The research was published in the journal The Lancet Planetary Health.

Source: Imperial College London

8 comments
Karmudjun
Clearly cycling carries an inherent risk to health as well, since you normally ride in traffic with exhaust fumes and the micro-particulate thrown from tires up into the air to breath. Add to that the personal health risks added by the individuals riding to work - some of whom may engage in quite risky behavior - you might consider weighting the results even more heavily toward the exercise group. We know daily exercise improves cardiopulmonary health and given all the downside to pulmonary health riding on city streets gives - this study promotes the practice. Consider the bicyclists who are injured or die from riding, the bicyclists who engage in other risky behaviors and are removed from the cohort, this longevity in the cycling group compared to the 'normal' riding group speaks volumes.
akarp
Yup! Its time to start re-thinking how we stay healthy and the roles doctors have.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
I used up my highway bicycling luck and then retired. Still do three times around the block on Thursday and Friday.
pmshah
Wouldn't Holland have been a better place for study as I have seen people wearing expensive 3 piece suits and carrying $1000/- brief cases cycling to work and that too in substantial numbers.
jesper
Well - maybe a british study, but I know that building - it's the Christiansborg Castle, Copenhagen, Denmark. The present castle was build in 1928, after the previous castle burnt down - and even the previous castle was not the first on this place; it has been the home of danish kings and queens for 800 years. Note the flags on the spire - it's "Dannebrog", our flag since 1219, where it - according to tradition - fell to us at Tallin after a batlle. Still our national flag - here in the "split" version, reserved for royalties. Christiansborg is still home of ruling Denmark - now a days it houses our parliament. So - the cyclist are (most likely) Danes - but wa also have plenty of them....though not quite as plenti as in Amsterdam ;o)
Kpar
I wanted to ride my bike to work, but that would have required the company to install showers- which some of our facilites (the older ones) already had, but the company (at the time the largest telcom in the world) refused to spend any money on them. Retired now, and glad I'm out!
sidmehta
Exercise keeps you a bit healthier...is that really news?
nick101
Geez, how will the work-from-home cohort, benefit?