Active travel (i.e. by foot or bicycle) can increase the amount of exercise that people are able to integrate into their daily lives. Being more active helps prevent or manage over 20 health conditions and diseases, including coronary heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and obesity. Physical activity is also good for mental wellbeing and can help older people maintain independent lives for longer. 6 Physical activity that can be incorporated into everyday life, such as brisk walking and cycling, has been found to be as effective for weight loss as supervised exercise programmes. 7

Increasing active travel also has related health benefits from lower car use and associated reductions in air pollution and carbon dioxide emissions, a reduction in road danger and noise, and an increase in the number of people out on the streets – making public spaces appear more welcoming and providing opportunities for social interaction. 8

While there are clear health benefits from cycling, there are also associated risks, including casualties involving motor vehicles (especially heavy goods vehicles) and cyclists. However, as the 2010 joint Department for Transport and Department of Health Active Travel Strategy states, ‘safety risks are outweighed by the health benefits by a factor of around twenty to one.’ 9 A recent study confirmed that the health benefits of walking and cycling outweigh the risks from air pollution in London, and makes the point that the health risks from air pollution would be reduced if more people switched from motorised to active travel. 10

References

  1. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), “Physical activity and the environment (PH8),” 2008.
  2. Public Health England and Local Government Association, “Healthy people, healthy places briefing – Obesity and the environment: increasing physical activity and active travel,” 2013.
  3. Public Health England and Local Government Association, “Healthy people, healthy places briefing – Obesity and the environment: increasing physical activity and active travel,” 2013
  4. Department for Transport and Department of Health, “Active Travel Strategy,” 2010.
  5. M. Tainio, A. J. Nazelle and T. Götschi, “Can air pollution negate the health benefits of cycling and walking?,” Preventive Medicine, vol. 87, p. 233–236, 2016.
  6. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), “Physical activity and the environment (PH8),” 2008.
  7. Public Health England and Local Government Association, “Healthy people, healthy places briefing – Obesity and the environment: increasing physical activity and active travel,” 2013.
  8. Public Health England and Local Government Association, “Healthy people, healthy places briefing – Obesity and the environment: increasing physical activity and active travel,” 2013
  9. Department for Transport and Department of Health, “Active Travel Strategy,” 2010.
  10. M. Tainio, A. J. Nazelle and T. Götschi, “Can air pollution negate the health benefits of cycling and walking?,” Preventive Medicine, vol. 87, p. 233–236, 2016.