Research has shown that a physically active lifestyle reduces the risk of stroke and coronary heart disease and promotes good mental health. In 2001, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology’s report titled ‘Health Benefits of Physical Activity’ stated that regular exercise, such as cycling, provides protection from diabetes, strokes and certain types of cancer, and halves the chances of suffering from heart disease – the single largest cause of death in Britain.
The advice from the Department of Health is that at least five days a week, people should take part in moderately intensive activity that lasts 30 minutes. In a nutshell, cyclists are healthier than the average motorist and can expect to live longer. Irrespective of gender, age or initial physical fitness, a cyclist will enjoy a greater sense of well-being and be fitter after just a few weeks of regular cycling.
There is no doubt that cycling is one of the most effective and enjoyable work-outs. In 1999, a report titled ‘Cycling for Better Health’ by the Department of the Transport, Environment and the Regions – aided by 99 volunteers – found that even a small amount of cycling can lead to significant health benefits. These benefits include:
- Lowering both blood pressure and the resting heart rate
- Improving stamina, strength and cardiovascular fitness
- Increasing calorie consumption and raising the metabolic rate. This can, in turn, lead to weight loss
- Improving co-ordination and balance
- Promoting psychological well-being. Several studies have shown that exercise can improve mental capacities, reduce stress and give a general sense of well-being
As well as being exhilarating and convenient, cycling provides one of the most effective forms of aerobic exercise according to ‘Pedalling Health: Health Benefits of a Modal Transport Shift’, a 1995 report. In the long-term, cycling can improve general fitness and help to reduce the chances of premature death. It can provide protection from some of the most prevalent causes of death in the United Kingdom, including:
- Heart failure – exercise is the single most effective protective factor for coronary heart disease.
- Strokes – cycling helps reduce high blood pressure, a condition that increases the chance of a stroke.
- Fractures, falls and injuries – a cyclist has a reduced chance of an accident because of improvements in co-ordination and strength.
- Pollution – cyclists absorb lower levels of pollutants from traffic fumes than other road users according to ‘Promoting Cycling: Improving Health’, a report issued by the National Cycling Forum in 1999.
- Cancer and diabetes – research indicates exercise can protect against diabetes and reduce the risk of developing colon cancer.
Fear of collisions with cars, lorries and buses may put some people off the idea of cycling as a form of exercise, particularly those travelling on busy city roads. But collision statistics issued by the Department for Transport, Local Government and the Regions in 2001 show that there is less than one cycling death in the UK for every 18 million miles cycled. A serious injury occurs less than once in every 900,000 miles cycled.
Both doctors and government health experts concluded that the risk of injury was outweighed by the benefits of cycling in ‘Cycling: Towards Health and Safety’, a report issued by the British Medical Association in 1992.