Doctors across the UK could soon be prescribing their patients time on the bike to improve their mental wellbeing.
The Cycle for Health scheme, now in its fourth year, offers people with long-term conditions a programme of cycling training to improve their mental health.
During trials in West Yorkshire 141 people have taken up the prescription, reporting back that they have felt a “considerable improvement” in confidence, feeling close to others and feeling relaxed.
The project has been run by charity Cycling UK and the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, which covers Barnsley, Bradford, Calderdale, Craven, Harrogate, Kirklees, Leeds, Selby, Wakefield and York, and could now be expanded to the rest of the country.
Senior project officer at Cycling UK, Tom Murray, said: “The feedback from people who have been on the scheme is overwhelmingly positive, and over the course of 12 weeks we can see huge improvements in both their physical and mental health.
“It doesn’t matter if they could ride a bike before they came to us, our programme teaches them all sorts of skills from learning to ride through to going out in groups, using hand signals, checking for traffic and road positions. And the confidence that gives them is very often life changing.”
According to Cycling UK, those taking part in the 12-week training programme reported a 32 per cent increase in confidence, a 29 per cent increase in feeling close to others and a 26 per cent increase in feeling relaxed.
The project also benefits those living in disadvantaged areas, as 42 per cent of those taking part live in some of the most deprived areas in the country.
At the start of the programme, 82 per cent of participants were not meeting the NHS physical activity guideline of 150 minutes per week, with 31 per cent doing less than 30 minutes.
But immediately after the programme, 73 per cent were meeting those guidelines while 61 per cent said their fitness had increased.
One of those who benefitted was Andrea, 47, from Wakefield. She said: “I’m more confident. I’m able to be out with other people more than I would normally. My fitness has improved, my lung function is a lot better than it has been and now I actually want to go out and do other things, and keep cycling, keep active, and really start living my life.”
Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority Transport Committee, Councillor Kim Groves, said: “We often hear cycling described as a ‘magic pill or ‘miracle pill,’ something that can help make people happier and healthier, live longer and cut public health costs, followed by questions about why it’s not being prescribed to the nation.
“Our Cycle for Health scheme is leading the way and this demonstrates the scale of our ambition, not only in encouraging more people to travel by bike, but also ensuring our residents are given the tools they need to lead happier, healthier lives.”
Jenny Box, Cycling UK’s head of development, told the BBC the organisation hopes to expand the programme to other parts of the country.