New Studies Show Cycling Is the Healthiest Way to Get Around and Makes You Thinner

CC BY 2.0. Waiting for the light to change, London/ Lloyd Alter

There are so many reasons to give up the car and get on a bike; here are two more.

Two new studies from Europe come up with some shocking conclusions that will surprise everyone: Cycling is the healthiest way to get around cities and Promoting cycling in cities can tackle obesity.

Pasta Project

PASTA project/Screen captureThe studies were part of the the EU-funded project PASTA:

Physical Activity Through Sustainable Transport Approaches - aims to connect transport and health by promoting active mobility in cities (i.e. walking and cycling in combination with public transport use) as an innovative way of integrating physical activity into our everyday lives.

In the first study, The effects of transport mode use on self-perceived health, mental health, and social contact measures: a cross-sectional and longitudinal study, led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), the researchers examined different modes of transport including cars, motorbikes, public transport, bikes, e-bikes and walking. They then questioned 8,000 people in seven European cities, not including the usual suspects of Amsterdam and Copenhagen. From the press release:

The findings, published in Environment International, show that cycling yielded the best results in every analysis. Bicycles were associated with better self-perceived general health, better mental health, greater vitality, lower self-perceived stress and fewer feelings of loneliness. The second most beneficial transport mode, walking, was associated with good self-perceived general health, greater vitality, and more contact with friends and/or family.

Waiting for light to change, Copenhagen

Waiting for the light to change, Copenhagen/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

The authors conclude with what anyone who rides a bike already knows: “Similarity of findings across cities suggested that active transport, especially bicycle use, should be encouraged to improve population health and social outcomes.”

Hayley Dunning of Imperial College London speaks to Audrey de Nazelle, from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial, who points out that cities should learn from this study and clean up their act, as well as their air.

This study adds to existing evidence that walking and cycling for transport is good for your health, and also makes people interact socially more. Combined with other issues like air pollution, it makes sense to think much more holistically about the impacts of our urban policies. For example, as London is trying to grapple with major health problems such as air pollution, social isolation, and obesity, why not tackle them together and get a bigger bang for our buck by promoting walking and cycling?

Waiting for light to change, berlin

Waiting for the light to change, Berlin/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

In fact, the second study, Transport mode choice and body mass index: Cross-sectional and longitudinal evidence from a European-wide study, looks specifically at the issue of obesity. According to Hayley Dunning again, the study looked at 2000 urban dwellers who switched from driving to cycling and lost an average of .75 kg (1.6 pounds) and Body Mass Index decreased by 0.24. The study concludes:

In conclusion, we found statistically significant associations between transport mode choice and BMI. Cyclists weighed less than their non-active peers; and people that start or increase cycling will most likely lose weight and vice versa. Promoting active mobility may therefore provide an opportunity to fight the overweight and obesity epidemic, contributing in turn to reduce the very high burden of non-communicable diseases.

Or as Dr. Nazelle summarized,

Travel by car contributes to obesity and also air pollution. In contrast, bikes burn fat and don’t release pollution. As well as promoting better health, cities that encourage cycling are giving themselves a better chance of meeting air quality objectives.

I also particularly liked a Redditor's comment on this study:

That may seem obvious but I think that this kind of longitudinal study is still useful in dispelling the idea that people using active transportation are already fit to start with. I am sure many bike commuters here have heard something similar to "I could never do this" or "I am not fit enough to commute by bike". Lots of people don't seem to get that commuting by bike doesn't require you to be fit; it makes you fit.

They are also fighting CO2 emissions and climate change. Seriously, there are so many reasons to promote cycling, to install bike infrastructure, that it is amazing that anyone still shows up to protest it. If only they would read these studies.