Now is finally the time to dust off your road bike, pump up the tires, wake up a few minutes early, and start a new routine.
According to new research from the University of Glasgow, in Scotland, bicycling to work is linked to significantly lower rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and overall mortality rates when compared with those who use a vehicle to travel to work.
The study, published in the British Medical Journal, analyzed a wealth of data from 263,540 participants over a five-year period.
Among their conclusions: Cyclists had a 46 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease, a 45 percent lower risk of developing cancer, and an overall 41 percent lower risk of premature death from any cause.
“It’s really a win-win,” said lead researcher Dr. Jason Gill from the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences at the University of Glasgow.
“You save time that you need to go to the gym, and because it is part of your routine — you need to go to work every day, so you get your physical activity in even when you are too busy to go to the gym,” he told Healthline.
Get exercise however you can
From a health perspective, more exercise is a good thing, no matter how you get it in.
Researchers point out that physical activity is declining worldwide, and an active commute is a great way to start incorporating more exercise into your day.
In the United States, bike commuting rose 61 percent between 2000 and 2012.
However, a bicycle commute is not without its own risk factors and challenges.
The most cited concerns are pollution and the simple dangers of being on the road with automobile drivers.
Experts, however, say the worry about pollution exposure for cyclists has largely been overblown. The Guardian wrote last year that the benefits of cycling vastly outweigh the potential pollution risks, in all but some of the most polluted cities on the planet.
Gill also reminds those interested in bicycling to work to take some basic precautionary measures like getting lights and learning how to fix a flat.
Practically, Gill hopes that these findings can be used as scientific support for implementing more biking infrastructures and to encourage both individuals and governments to support the activity.
He cites major cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, Denmark, as good examples of bike-friendly cites.
“It is important to try to facilitate getting more people on bikes,” he says. “This means removing barriers to cycling in those who currently don’t. This will involve things such as increasing provision of cycle lanes, increasing provision for cycles on public transport, city bike hire schemes, subsidized bike purchase schemes [e.g. tax rebates].”
Walking to work
But, even if you don’t plan on biking to work, other forms of commuting are also beneficial.
The research included information about other forms of “active commuting,” including walking, and “mixed” (both walking and cycling).
Both walking and mixed commuting showed lower risks of cardiovascular disease, but they did not share the overall lower risk of mortality that cycling did.
Even so, other new research is demonstrating the importance of walking to human physiology — especially the brain.
Dr. Ernest Greene from New Mexico Highlands University presented his findings this past week on the special relationship between blood flow and walking.
The key factor in walking (and running) is the actual impact of foot on the ground. This seemingly insignificant aspect of the activity actually regulates blood pressure and flow.
“The impact acts as a second pressure generator after the heart. Other exercises like cycling or rowing do not create foot impacts,” he told Healthline.
Green says that while generally all forms of exercise are good for the body because they increase oxygen and blood flow, there is really some science behind the “runner’s high”— the sense of excitement or well-being from exercise.
“Nature made heart and stride rates relatively similar while walking or running, thus allowing possible increases in blood flow when they are in sync. When in sync, blood flow can be optimized,” he said.
“Simply stated,” he added, “the data tells us that walking nicely, and gently, increases the brain’s blood flow — generally a very good thing.”