Health and cycling

Briefing
Cycling helps keep you fit

Health and cycling

Headline Message 
  • Cycling is excellent exercise. It helps people meet recommended physical activity guidelines, improves their physical and mental health and their well-being, while reducing the risk of premature death and ill-health.
  • Cycling is far more likely to benefit an individual’s health than damage it; and the more cyclists there are, the safer cycling becomes – the ‘safety in numbers’ effect.
  • Cycling fits into daily routines better than many other forms of exercise, because it doubles up as transport to work, school or the shops etc. It’s easier than finding extra time to visit the gym and far less costly.
  • Lack of exercise can make people ill. It can lead to obesity, coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke, cancers, type 2 diabetes and other life-threatening conditions.
  • Unlike driving, cycling causes negligible harm to others, either through road injuries or pollution. This makes it a healthy option not just for cyclists, but for everyone else too. 
Policy Key Facts 
  • Cycling to work is linked with a 45% lower risk of developing cancer, and a 46% lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD), compared to commuting by car or public transport.
  • The health benefits of cycling outweigh the injury risks by between 13:1 and 415:1, according to studies. The figure that is most often quoted is 20:1 (life years gained due to the benefits of cycling v the life-years lost through injuries).
  • Boys aged 10-16 who cycle regularly to school are 30% more likely to meet recommended fitness levels, while girls who cycle are seven times more likely to do so.
  • In England, physical inactivity causes around 37,000 preventable premature deaths p.a. amongst people aged 40-79. In 2015, there were 525 thousand admissions in NHS hospitals where obesity was recorded as a factor.
  • In England (2015), over one in five children in Reception, and over one in three children in Year 6 were measured as obese or overweight.
  • Without action, 60% of men, 50% of women and 25% of children could be obese by 2050 in the UK, at a cost of £10 billion p.a. to the NHS.
Cycling UK View 
  • Policy makers should recognise cycling as a healthy and convenient means of transport and recreation that could easily be incorporated into the ordinary day-to-day activity of millions of adults and children.
  • There is good evidence that cycling’s health benefits far outweigh the risks involved and that the more people who cycle, the safer it becomes – the ‘safety in numbers’ effect.
  • Cycling is also a benign mode of transport causing negligible harm to others. Hence a switch from motorised travel to cycling would improve road safety for all by reducing road danger.
  • Locally and nationally, public health/transport/planning policies, strategies and guidance should be mutually supportive in promoting and facilitating cycling as active travel; and they should clearly steer professionals towards cross-sector working. This will help tackle the serious, costly and growing crisis of physical inactivity and the health problems associated with it.
  • Directors of Public Health (England) should take advantage of their position in local authorities to engage transport, town and spatial planning and other council departments (e.g. leisure and tourism) more closely in promoting cycling as active travel and recreation.
  • The NHS and its providers should actively promote cycling to their own employees, to the people in their care, and to the general public; and they should invest in measures to support it (e.g. patient referral schemes, cycling facilities at sites as part of travel plans etc.).
  • Transport and planning decisions should be ‘health checked’ to maximise the potential for positive impacts on active travel and minimise negative impacts. Tackling hostile road conditions is a priority because they put existing cyclists at risk and deter many others including children and young people.
  • Placing the onus solely on cyclists to protect themselves from injury does not tackle the risks they face at source. Health professionals should therefore remain cautious about cycle safety campaigns that focus on personal protective equipment.
Download the full detailed campaign briefing 
Cycling is good exercise and it's easy to fit into the daily routiine. If more people took it up, it could help ward off the health crises facing the NHS.