Think it’s scary to bike to work? It might be scarier not to. A new study published in The British Medical Journal this April named bike commuting the healthiest mode of transportation, beating out walking and, of course, driving or taking public transportation. The daily pedal proved to significantly lower one’s risk of dying from any illness by 41%. Talk about a good excuse to participate in National Bike to Work Week (May 15–19), and kick off a new long-term, weekly habit that could add years to your life.
In the largest study of its kind, British researchers observed 263,450 participants, ages 40–69, over the course of five years as they used various modes of transportation to get to and from work. The options for commuting included biking, walking or mixed modes of either biking or walking combined with non-active transportation (i.e., car or public transportation). To eliminate external factors that might influence the mortality rate, researchers statistically adjusted for age, sex, socioeconomic status and habits, like smoking and a poor diet. Results were unsurprising: The highest activity level was associated with the most benefits. However, study authors were intrigued by just how much cycling impacted one’s health.
“The average weekly commute distance for cyclists was 30 miles, whereas the average weekly commute distance for walkers was 6 miles. The more you do, the bigger the benefit. Another factor is that cycling is harder, so it offers a higher intensity and, therefore, better gains,” says lead study author Jason Gill, PhD, who works at the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences at the College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences at the University of Glasgow.
“Cycling reduced the risk of developing cancer or heart disease by 45%, which is substantial compared to non-active transport,” Gill says. Mix-mode cycling saw a decreased risk of mortality by 24%. Besides duration and intensity, cyclists had another advantage: They proved to be more active out of the saddle, too, compared to walkers and drivers, who were equally inactive throughout the rest of the day.
READ MORE > A CYCLIST’S LOVE LETTER TO BIKE COMMUTING
What makes cycling so special? Gill thinks it’s because people are getting a twofer — they knock out their daily fitness fix with their commute. Plus, it’s time- and money-saving. You don’t need to sign up for an expensive spin or kickboxing class, remember to pack your gear and leave the office in time to make the session. Not to mention, biking may be the fastest way to get to work (sayonara traffic).
Sure, road cycling has inherent risks, which is why it’s important to support your local community in building the infrastructure needed to ensure your safety. “If we can create more cycling lanes, then those who currently don’t want to cycle to work because they are worried about cars have a safer means of getting around. We have to work at all different levels, including informing the individual of the health benefits and helping them feel more confident on a bike riding with traffic,” says Gill, who recommends first-time commuters test ride their bike route on Sunday when there are less cars out before hitting the road on Monday.