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Study Shows Cycling is the Healthiest and Safest Form of Urban Transportation

article by Hassan Vally

There are many ways to get around a city. You can drive a car or ride a motorcycle. In many cities you have the option of public transport. And of course if you live close enough to where you are heading you can get around in a more active way by riding a bicycle or walking.

Cycling may be dangerous in some ways, but it’s healthy too. But do the health benefits outweigh the risks of potential death? And what about public transport or driving? What is the risk of having an accident, and are there any health benefits at all? There are a number of variables to consider, so the answers to these questions may not be as straightforward as you think.

Different variables

In terms of safety, some things to consider include your location, distance travelled, and the time of day you’re travelling. With more people on the roads during morning and evening peak hour, this is clearly the riskiest time to travel.

Other variables, such as the quality of roads/paths, weather conditions, and your skill as a driver or rider would also come into consideration. Another variable would be your mental state as you commute. For example, are you under the influence of alcohol or are you distracted by your mobile phone?

Overall though, if you live in a Western country, you are unlikely to die while travelling around the city, regardless of your mode of transport. 

Riding your bike is by far the healthiest way of getting around. Not only does it get you to your destination, it also involves moderate to high intensity exercise.

Some might fear cycling. A recent report from the Australian Automobile Association showed 45 cyclists died on Australian roads over the past 12 months, compared to 25 deaths recorded over the same period in 2016-17. This is an increase of 80%. But it’s important to remember the overall population risk of having such an accident is small. If you live in a Western country, you would have to travel approximately 23 miles (47 kilometers) by bicycle to have a one in a million chance of dying.

And the health benefits of cycling far outweigh that risk. A 2017 study of more than 250,000 people in the UK showed cycling to work reduced your risk of death from all causes by around 40%. This study involved tracking people for around five years to look at the relationship between how they commute and a number of health outcomes.

It took into account their age, sex, socioeconomic status, ethnicity, smoking, BMI, diet and other types of physical activity. This estimate also took into account risks cyclists often worry about, such as having an accident and exposure to pollution. So when you cycle, the health benefits that reduce your risk of dying far exceed your actual chance of dying on the road.

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