The health benefits of cycling and walking in Scotland: facts and figures

By Alexander Quayle,
health benefits of cycling drawing
Cyclists  at Sciennes Primary School

©2017, Colin Hattersley all rights reserved

It is well known that physical activity is key to people’s health and wellbeing – with numerous studies showing that people who walk and cycle enjoy longer and healthier lives.

Increasingly, however, research on the long-term benefits of walking and cycling is uncovering benefits that are even greater than previously thought. Regular physical activity can help to prevent numerous serious health conditions and save the NHS millions of pounds each year.

Sustrans Scotland have published a leaflet with the most up-to-date evidence on the health benefits of walking and cycling.

Some of the key findings collected in our leaflet include:

  • Regular cyclists reduce their risk of developing cardiovascular disease by 46%.
  • People who are physically active reduce chances of late-onset diabetes by between a third and a half.
  • Cycling to work reduces the risk of cancer by 45%.

These figures alone highlight the huge importance of physical activity to people’s health in Scotland and the rest of the UK, and the need to be more active from a young age. 9 out of 10 young people still do not get enough regular physical activity.

The health benefits of walking and cycling form part of the motivation behind the Government’s Active Nation plans in the most recent programme for government, and their increase in funding for walking and cycling to £80 million each year. This is double the funding of previous years and represents a step-change in ambition for Scotland.

To put things in perspective, however, Scotland still spends more on the drugs for diabetes (£90m) in a single year than it does on walking and cycling. That’s just the drugs, for one health condition, which physical activity has been shown to help prevent.

Imagine the possible potential savings to the NHS alone, if more people started walking and cycling for regular, everyday journeys – helping not only to prevent diabetes – but alleviate numerous other diseases and health conditions too, from cancer to asthma.

The findings collated in our leaflet are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the current benefits of active travel, not only to individuals, but healthcare services and providers.
We will be using the information to help make the case for making walking and cycling easier for everyone to do.

Download the leaflet for all the facts and figures which show walking and cycling are the best prescription for Scotland’s health.