Cycling and Health - the evidence

Publication date: 
September 2007

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The health benefits

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 UK, where obesity is at epidemic levels among adults and 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 find additional time for exercise.

One study found that people who cycle to work experienced a 39% lower rate of all-cause 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 doing a specific training programme. Cycling for an additional 30 minutes on most days of the week, combined with reducing calorie intake, can achieve weight loss comparable to that achieved by doing three 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
minimal and, the research suggests, are outweighed by the health benefits by a factor of around twenty to one. It may be more risky
to your health to be sedentary.

h2 Conclusion

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 transport and health authorities need to recognise the potential of cycling to improve many aspects of public health, and place it at
the heart of a healthy transport strategy, devising safe cycling policies and promoting the use of cycling – by children and adults alike –
on a daily basis.