Ride to work and cut your risk of premature death

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People ride to work for many different reasons – some want to save time and money, some are environmentally-motivated, and others just want to stay fit. For most, it is simply more convenient than any other method of commuting.

Now there is one more reason to add to the list – and it’s a big one.

We’ve long known riding to work will add years to your life by maintaining your health and fitness, and recent research has revealed strong evidence that commuting by bike cuts the risk of cancer and heart disease by almost half.

A study published in the British Medical Journal shows that people who cycle to work have better health outcomes over any other method of commuting – including walking. The authors of the study explained their methods in an article in The Conversation:

“We followed people for around five years, counting the incidences of heart disease, cancers and death. Importantly, we adjusted for other health influences including sex, age, deprivation, ethnicity, smoking, body mass index, other types of physical activity, time spent sitting down and diet. Any potential differences in risk associated with road accidents is also accounted for in our analysis, while we excluded participants who had heart disease or cancer already.

“We found that cycling to work was associated with a 41% lower risk of dying overall compared to commuting by car or public transport. Cycle commuters had a 52% lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 40% lower risk of dying from cancer. They also had 46% lower risk of developing heart disease and a 45% lower risk of developing cancer at all.”

In Canberra, only a very small percentage of the population ride their bikes to work. Given our reputation as one of the most bike-friendly cities in Australia, and the indisputable benefits that riding to work brings to both individuals who participate, and society as a whole, this is disappointing.

Of the 114,000 Canberrans who ride a bike every month, only 2.9% regularly ride to work. This is a nationwide trend, with the latest Cycling Participation Survey showing that 85.5% of people who ride bikes regularly in Australia cycle recreationally, and only 30.2% of regular riders use their bikes for transport.

There is work to be done to show Australians that bikes can be used for transport as well as leisure.

Pedal Power ACT recently introduced an initiative called Cycle Works, which aims to encourage more people in the ACT to give riding to work a try. Cycle Works provides incentives like prizes and giveaways, as well as the opportunity for participants to set personal goals, and compete in teams or as individuals for a place on the Cycle Works leaderboard.

As the authors of the study conclude, “the findings suggest policymakers can make a big difference to public health by encouraging cycling to work in particular. And we should not forget other benefits such as reducing congestion and motor emissions.”

“Ways to achieve this include increasing provision for cycle lanes, city bike hire schemes, subsidised bike purchase schemes, secure cycle parking and more facilities for bicycles on public transport.”

The ACT Government facilitates and promotes riding to work through the Active Travel Office, which held Canberra Walk and Ride Week in March. They hoped to promote walking, riding and catching public transport to work, as well as gain an understanding of how people in the ACT use active travel methods to commute.

Following Canberra Walk and Ride Week, the Active Travel Office has recently introduced four new Park and Pedal locations to encourage mixed-mode active travel – that is, driving to a location closer to work, and then riding a bike the rest of the way.

With all the incentives on offer – not least of which is a longer, healthier life – if you don’t ride to work, it might be time to ask yourself: why not?

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