Longer life, improved health, more energy, lower costs and extra fun… It’s official – cycling makes you a better person in many ways. Here are just a few reasons, along with some compelling stats, to cycle to work
1 Feel happier
Apart from the increased self-esteem and confidence that getting fitter and leaner will give you, simply spending more time outside will cheer you up. This is thanks to the ability of sunlight to boost your levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin.
So if you want to beat the depressing effect of sitting in an artificially lit office, you should get outside to expose yourself to more daylight. The recommended office lighting is only about 300lux, whereas the strength of the sun measures over 1000lux even on overcast days. Full daylight (not directly in the sun) is 10,000-25,000lux. So go on, get out there!
The other major benefit of getting more daylight in your life is that you’ll sleep better and longer. Stanford University School of Medicine researchers asked sedentary insomnia sufferers to cycle for 20-30 minutes every other day. The result? The amount of time the insomniacs took to fall asleep was reduced by half, and the time they spent asleep increased by almost an hour a night.
“Exercising outside exposes you to daylight,” explains Professor Jim Horne from Loughborough University’s Sleep Research Centre. “This helps get your circadian rhythm back in sync and rids your body of cortisol, the stress hormone that can prevent deep, regenerative sleep.”
2 Live longer
“Our research found that those who exercise regularly are at significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease, Type II diabetes, all types of cancer, high blood pressure and obesity,” says Dr Lynn Cherkas of King’s College London.
The research compared over 2400 identical twins and found that those who did the equivalent of three 45-minute rides every week were ‘biologically younger’ by nine years, even after discounting other influences such as body mass index (BMI) and smoking.
According to the British Heart Foundation, around 10,000 fatal heart attacks could be avoided each year if people kept themselves fitter. Studies from Purdue University in the US have shown that regular cycling – even as little as 20 miles a week – can cut your risk of heart disease by up to 50 percent.
Cycling can even protect you from the big C, according to Harley Street gastroenterologist Dr Ana Raimundo. “Physical activity helps decrease the time it takes food to move through the large intestine, limiting the amount of water absorbed back into your body and leaving you with softer stools, which are easier to pass,” she says.
Doing aerobic exercise such as cycling also accelerates your breathing and heart rate, which helps to stimulate the contraction of intestinal muscles and keep you more regular. “As well as preventing you from feeling bloated this helps protect against bowel cancer,” explains Dr Raimundo.
3 Travel cheaper
According to the RAC, the yearly cost of car ownership in the UK is about £5,869, the lion’s share of which is down to fuel. Today, petrol costs roughly £1.29 per litre and diesel £1.34 per litre, with both figures rising to record highs, says the AA. So should we be letting the buses and trains take the strain? If only.
Public transport costs have gone skyward too and the solution hundreds of thousands are turning to for daily travel, just as in the ’70s, is the bicycle. With cycling, the only inflationary factors are the rising cost of food and the payouts for your bike and kit. But you have to eat anyway, and the cost and depreciation on a new bike is at worst measured in hundreds of pounds, compared to the thousands lost on a car.
Transport for London estimates that the number of cycling journeys in the capital is up 117 percent since 2000. But this is just a drop in the ocean when you consider there are about 7 million people in the UK who make work-based journeys of under five miles by car or bus every day. Cycling England – the soon to be defunct Department for Transport quango tasked with promoting cycling – reckons they could each save upwards of £500 a year if they rode instead.
We could even make headway to reducing the national debt by cycling. Modelling for Cycling England shows that upping cycling levels by 20 percent in the 10 years up to 2015 could save £107 million in reducing premature deaths, £52m in NHS costs and £87m in fewer sick days.
4 Get leaner
Sports psychologists have found that the body’s metabolic rate – the efficiency with which it burns calories and fat – is not only raised during a ride but for several hours after. “Even after cycling for 30 minutes you could be burning a higher amount of total calories for a few hours after you stop,” says Mark Simpson of Loughborough University.
And as you get fitter the benefits are more profound. One recent study showed that cyclists who incorporated fast intervals into their training burned three-and-a-half times more body fat than those who cycled constantly but at a slower pace.
Loads of people who want to lose weight think going out for a jog is the best way to start. But while running does burn fat well, it’s not kind to your body if you’re a little larger than you’d like to be. Think about it: two to three times your weight crashes through your body when your foot strikes the ground. If you weigh 16 stone, that’s a lot of force!
Instead, start on a bike – most of your weight is taken by the saddle so your skeleton and joints don’t take a battering. One of the most attractive advantages of cycling for fitness is that you can combine it with commuting, getting to work earlier and fresher after an invigorating ride. You’ll also be becoming fitter by the day without really trying, and feeling and looking younger. According to the National Forum for Coronary Heart Disease Foundation in the US, regular cyclists enjoy a fitness level equal to that of a person 10 years younger.
5 Save the planet
It takes around five percent of the materials and energy used to make a car to manufacture a bike, and cycling produces zero pollution. Bikes are efficient machines too – you travel around three times as fast as walking for the same amount of energy and, taking into account the ‘fuel’ that you put in your ‘engine’, you can do the equivalent of 2,924 miles to the gallon. You have your weight ratio to thank for that: you’re about six times heavier than your bike but a car is roughly 20 times heavier than you.
With nearly a quarter of the UK’s CO2 emissions now coming from road transport, it’s no surprise that leaving your car at home is going to help pollution both locally and globally. Transport is on its way to overtaking industry as the major contributor to CO2 emissions in the UK. Vehicles give out about 70 per cent of air pollution in UK towns and cities, and 22 percent of the UK’s total CO2 emissions. Going by bike contributes nothing, and either walking or cycling much more for local journeys would reduce our dependence on oil.
If all commutes in England under five miles were completed by bike instead of car they would save a collective 44,000 tonnes of CO2 every week, the equivalent of heating 17,000 houses. Given that the average speed of rush hour traffic in London is 7mph and a reasonable average cycling speed is 13mph, that makes commuting by bike almost twice as fast as taking the car. Oh, and 10 bikes can be parked in one car space.