Pedalling towards better health

Bicycle riders have long known that riding maintains fitness, and biking has been used as a tool to promote public health – for instance, through the creation of urban cycling maps designed to assist riders in finding optimum routes.

Now, a new study led by Colorado State University (CSU), US, has for the first time estimated the health benefits of urban cycling in 17 countries.

According to the research team, up to 205,424 premature deaths could be prevented each year if countries support high levels of urban cycling, with 15,000 of those deaths in the US alone.

The study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, modelled the benefits of promoting urban cycling up to 2050, assuming that car travel is 100% replaced by bike trips.

Study senior author and avid urban cyclist Dr David Rojas-Rueda, of CSU, says the research found global biking policies may provide important mortality benefits in the years ahead.

“This study should be seen as a call to implement policies that support sustainable mobility and a healthy urban design,” he says. “Current policies will impact our future and the health of future generations.”

The study compared current cycling trends with high levels of urban cycling in 17 countries across North and South America, Europe, Asia and Africa.

The high cycling 2050 scenarios were based on policies that have been shown to bring a rapid increase in cycling participation. This includes such things as retrofitting cycling infrastructure onto existing roads to create route networks; implementing bike-share systems in large cities; reforming laws and enforcement practices to better protect cyclists; investing in walking facilities and public transport to offer trips that can be combined with bike trips; eliminating policies that support additional motorised vehicle use (such as free parking and fuel subsidies); and establishing a regime of fees to charge a price for driving.

The research team used a quantitative health impact assessment methodology, which considered the physical activity benefits and the risks associated with traffic fatalities and pollution inhalation during bike trips.

They also focused on the adult population in the 17 countries, and included the impact of electric bicycles.

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