Benefits of cycling to work outweigh risks

Cycling commuters are more likely to be injured on their way to work but are less likely to develop cancers, heart disease or other long lasting health issues

(Image credit: In Pictures via Getty Images)

Cycling commuters can still reap the health benefits despite the added risks of riding to work.

A recent study has found that, while cycling is associated with being 45 per cent more dangerous than driving to work, the risk is counterbalanced by the lower risk of cancers, heart disease and deaths seen in cycling commuters.

The study caried out by the University of Glasgow published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) collected data from 230,390 commuters in 22 different sites across the UK. 52 per cent were female and the average age was 52.

While 47 per cent of people involved lived within fives miles of their work with just 2.5 per cent of participants using cycling as their main form of commuting.

Senior author of the study, Dr Paul Welsh, from the University of Glasgow, said: “We know there is a perception that cycling in commuter traffic is dangerous, and that this perception may be putting people off actively commuting by bike to work.

“Now, as a result of this research, we can to some extent quantify the risk associated with this form of commuting. If 1000 people incorporate cycling into their commute for 10 years we would expect 26 more injuries, but 15 fewer cancers, four fewer heart disease events, and three fewer deaths. So, the benefits offset the risks, and this should be encouraging, but more needs to done to make commuter cycling safe.”

Compared to the non-active commuters, cycling commuters had a lower BMI and were less likely to smoke or have passed heart issues, diabetes, cancer or any longstanding health issues.

Even after factoring in these averages commuting by cycling is still going to be the healthier option.

Dr Welsh continued by saying: “Although we did not investigate strategies to make cycling safer, initiatives such as segregated cycle lanes, speed reductions and traffic calming have been shown, in previous work, to provide improved safety.

“Our work along with other research in this area suggests that, there is a need for both local and central government in the UK to consider a wide range of options for improving cycling-specific, as well as general, road safety. Without improvements, many people simply won’t consider cycling as a viable commute option”

The study, ‘Association of injury-related hospitalisation with commuting by bicycle in the UK – A prospective population based study’ is published in the BMJ. The work was conducted using UK Biobank data.

Tim Bonville-Ginn
Tim Bonville-Ginn

Tim Bonville-Ginn is one of Cycling Weekly's content writers for the web team responsible for writing stories on racing, tech, updating evergreen pages as well as the weekly email newsletter.

Bonville-Ginn started working in cycling journalism while still at school and university for a voluntary site based on Twitter before also doing slots for Eurosport's online web team and has been on location at the Tour de Yorkshire, Tour of Britain, UCI World Championships and various track events. He then joined the Cycling Weekly team in late February of 2020.

When not writing stories for the site, Bonville-Ginn doesn't really switch off his cycling side as he watches every race that is televised as well as being a rider himself and a regular user of the game Pro Cycling Manager.

He rides a Specialized Tarmac SL4 when out on his local roads back in West Yorkshire as well as in northern Hampshire with the hills and mountains being his preferred terrain.