biking to work

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Researchers recently studied whether biking to work increases the risk of injury.

With the increasing obesity epidemic, finding ways to fit in physical exercise are more important than ever. Research has shown that getting at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week can help lower the risk for diseases such as type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and heart disease. However, getting to the gym can prove to be difficult, so alternate forms of exercise can provide health benefits.

One alternative method of exercise is bicycle commuting. Yet, the actual number of people currently biking to work in the UK is only about four percent, even though almost 40% own a bike. Most people felt that bicycle commuting was too dangerous due to the hazards presented by traffic.

Since there was little data to support the risk associated with bicycle commuting, researchers from the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences in Glasgow recently conducted a cohort study to determine whether bicycle commuting increased cyclists’ risk of injury.

The study participants were from the UK Biobank between 2006 and 2010. There were 230,390 participants between the ages of 37 and 73, 54.4% female. Initially, the participants completed a questionnaire, interview, physical tests, and provided biological samples for analysis. Researchers assessed the commuting method, frequency, and distances of all participants and determined five commuting categories. They also analyzed the physical activity level of the participants and grouped them into physical activity classes.

Over the duration of the study period, injuries to participants were analyzed for severity including whether the injury resulted in a hospital stay or death due to the injury. Specifically, the percentage of injuries to arms, legs, head, neck, or bone fractures were assessed. The injuries were cross-referenced against transport-related incidents and investigated. The overall health of the participants was reviewed to determine the rates of disease compared to the commuting method of study participants.

Participants that cycled to work did experience a greater rate of injury and hospital admission regardless of gender or location. However, there was a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and overall reduced risk of death in those biking to work. 

Although the danger of bicycling to work is real, the study suggests the health benefits outweigh the risks. Researchers recommend that safer infrastructure be provided to encourage commuters to cycle and experience the benefits to their health and the environment. 

Written by Rebecca K. Blankenship, B.Sc.

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References: 

Welsh Claire, Celis-Morales Carlos A, Ho Frederick, Lyall Donald M, Mackay Daniel, Ferguson Lyn et al. Association of injury related hospital admissions with commuting by bicycle in the UK: prospective population based study BMJ 2020; 368 :m336

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