Cycling cuts risk of cancer and heart disease

Data for both walking and cycling makes a strong case for the health benefits of regular exercise.

20 April 2017

One of the largest research projects of its type to date has laid bare the enormous health benefits to people who choose to travel actively to work.

Research by the University of Glasgow, published in the British Medical Journal, has revealed people who cycle to work have a 45% lower risk of developing cancer and a 46% lower risk of developing heart disease.

The five –year study of 250,000 people, compared those who had an "active" commute with people who were mostly stationary. 

And as well as lowering the chances of developing cancer and heart disease, people who walked to work also have a 36% lower risk of dying from heart disease. 

This is not the first time research has been carried out on the health benefits of cycling. However the size and scale of the study mean the findings are difficult to ignore.

As a charity that helps people to walk and cycle for more of their everyday journeys, we welcome the study. 

In particular, we’re pleased to note that the researchers found that once people got into the habit of cycling to work, and it became part of their daily routine, cycling took no willpower - unlike going to the gym.

Heart disease is still the leading cause of illness and death in Scotland. This places even more stress on the NHS at a time of financial strain. Just the prescription drugs to treat related heart conditions cost Scotland over £100 million every year.

Given the huge potential savings, we think it would be better if this money could be spent transforming our streets, towns and cities into more liveable, healthy and pleasant environments for people to walk and cycle.

Jason Torrance, Sustrans Head of Policy thinks cycling to work is “a proven way for people to improve their health, to help their local economies and to improve their productivity at work”.

“There’s an urgent need to improve road conditions for cyclists and transforming local roads and streets into places that people feel safe and want to be,” he says.

“Some cities are taking a leading role in doing that, like London, Manchester, Edinburgh and Cardiff which are doing some fantastic things. But more needs to be done to encourage people to walk and cycle for more of their everyday journeys.” 

If you live in Scotland, why not consider joining Pedal on Parliament this weekend to show your support for cycling.

Find out more about the health benefits of walking and cycling.