Cycle to live – the facts

Problem: Frightened of cancer, heart disease and other nasty health problems? Worried about problems from being overweight? If you’re not sure whether you’re overweight, try the NHS’s simple online calculator.

Solution: Cycle.

The facts – where do they come from?

You see snippets, quotes and statistics about cycling and health on websites and in print, but where do they come from?

We spent a lot of time searching for the origins of these numbers, and the good news is that they are based on quality research. It’s just that the lengthy conclusions are converted into short snappy sayings to get the message across, and sometimes attract criticism as they are out of context.

So if you’re interested in the background to these quotes, or you need to read the original details, we’ve provided a starting point for your reading, which is the excellent publication from Cycling England (now axed) entitled Cycling & Health. What’s the Evidence? by Cavill, N. and Davis, A. (2007) –  note that this can be viewed in a browser or as a pdf download.

Some of the good news within it is highlighted below:

Anyone can cycle – it’s easy and prolongs life

Make it part of your normal day – cycle to work, to see friends or to the shops. No need to wear lycra or get sweaty.

Fact: People who don’t cycle to work have a 39% higher death rate (from any cause) than those who do (Andersen et al, 2000).

NB Although this study summary is correctly quoted, it is out of context, so it reads as if death is optional, and that cycling to work could make you immortal. In fact, the figure comes from surveys of 30,000+ Copenhagen residents, with follow-up health checks up to 28 years later. There were 39% more deaths in the group who hadn’t cycled to work compared with those who had. So it’s still good news. YOu may ask how much cycling to work they did? An average of 3 hours per week.

Be as fit as someone 10 years younger

A little bit of cycling goes a long way.

Fact: People who cycle enjoy a level of fitness equivalent to being five years younger (any cycling) to ten years younger (regular cycling) – from Tuxworth et al, 1986.

Sleep well; feel well

Exercise cheers you up, energises you and helps you sleep.

Fact: Cycling improves your levels of well-being, self-confidence and tolerance to stress. You also sleep better and are less tired (Boyd et al, 1998).

Save time and money

Cycle and forget about needing time and money for exercise classes or the gym.

Fact: Cycle for an extra 30 minutes for most days of the week, cut calories, and lose the same weight as if you’d gone to three aerobic classes a week. (Andersen et al, 1999).

Traffic risks to cyclists are a lot less than health risks to non-cyclists

Traffic might seem dangerous, but overall it isn’t (try the safety quiz from Bicycling Life; look at further links on our cycle safety page). That feeling of danger also keeps you safe because you’re alert – essential on quiet lanes and busy roads alike.

Fact: The health benefits of cycling far outweigh the risks of zero exercise (by 20:1). (Hillman, 1992). People who don’t cycle to work have a 39% higher death rate (from any cause) than those who do (Andersen et al, 2000) – see the first fact at the top for an explanation of this figure.

Read more

Got an an essay or assignment to produce?
Got an article to write, fast?
Got someone to persuade?
Want some ideas, facts and figures?

Then look at this publication by Cycling England, which is easy to read, packed with details, and gives all the sources of its facts, figures and quotes, so you can burrow down to the original studies, data and conclusions.
Cycling & Health. What’s the Evidence? by Cavill, N. and Davis, A. (2007) – this is a pdf download.

Who are Cycling England? Or rather, who were they?

  • The independent, national expert body charged by Government with delivering programmes that get more people cycling, more safely, more often.
  • Established in 2005.
  • Axe fell in 2010 – to end in March 2011, despite only costing £200,000 pa to fund
  • Supported by a cross-government group comprising:
    the Department for Transport;
    the Department of Health;
    the Department for Children, Schools and Families;
    the Department of Culture, Media and Sport;
    the Department for Communities and Local Government;
    and the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Sources of the facts above

Details of research studies:

Andersen, L. et al (2000). All-cause mortality associated with physical activity during leisure time, work, sports, and cycling to work. Archives of Internal Medicine, 160, pp. 1621-1628.

Andersen, R. E, et al (1999). Effects of a lifestyle activity vs structured aerobic exercise in obese women: a randomized trial. Journal of the American Medical Association, 281;33 5-340.

Boyd, H., et al (1998). Health-related effects of regular cycling on a sample of previous non-exercisers: resume of main findings. Bike for Your Life Project and CTC. (Findings summarised in DETR (1999), Cycling for better health, Traffic Advisory Leaflet 12/99, DETR (now the Dept for Transport).

Hillman, M. (1992). Cycling and the promotion of health. PTRC 20th Summer Annual Meeting, Proceedings of Seminar B, pp. 25-36.