Learn to ride a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live. Mark Twain.
Thirty years ago I was scared away from the bike by the risks. Now at age 71 I’m back and so far having a ball.
What are the benefits?
Lifted straight off the Victorian Government Better Health website
The health benefits of regular cycling include:
- increased cardiovascular fitness
- increased muscle strength and flexibility
- improved joint mobility
- decreased stress levels
- improved posture and coordination
- strengthened bones
- decreased body fat levels
- prevention or management of disease
- reduced anxiety and depression.
Improved joint mobility and strengthened bones seem dubious claims. If you can’t put your knees, hips and ankles through a certain range you can’t cycle and they’ll never do anything extra no matter how many times you pedal. The evidence for bone density is mixed – cycling is often praised as weightless exercise you can’t expect too much.
Cycling Weekly (so much more beneficial than cycling weakly) would like to add better sleep, better sex and a better social life to the list.
Yeah, so it’s great. How great?
A study in the UK of 263,450 people with an average age of 53 followed for about 5 years published in the British Medical Journal
… found that cycling to work was associated with a 41% lower risk of dying overall compared to commuting by car or public transport. Cycle commuters had a 52% lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 40% lower risk of dying from cancer. They also had 46% lower risk of developing heart disease and a 45% lower risk of developing cancer at all.
That would appear to be sufficiently beneficial to outweigh the risk posed by riding in traffic at least in the UK but the risks are not negligible.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare* looked at hospital and death data for a 17 year period.
- about 12,000 cyclists were hospitalised due to injuries sustained in a crash—this was 1 in 5 of the 60,000 people hospitalised due to injury in a land transport crash
- nearly 6 in 10 of hospitalised cyclists were injured in an on-road crash (6,900 or 58%), and the rest were injured off-road
- nearly 6 in 10 hospitalised cyclists had sustained a fracture, with the most common injury being a fractured upper limb
Between 1999–00 and 2015–16:
- 651 cyclists died, an average of 38 deaths a year
- of cyclists who died, nearly 8 in 10 were aged 25 and over, and 9 in 10 were male
- nearly 160,000 cyclists were hospitalised, an average of more than 9,000 each year
- across all ages, the rate of hospitalisation rose by an average of 1.5% each year
- the proportion aged 25 and over rose, while the proportion aged under 25 fell
Of particular interest to a 71 year old male is that injuries tended to be more severe in older people requiring longer hospital stays.
The over-representation of males is interesting. Is it that 90% of cyclists are male or are the girls cycling with a great deal more care than the boys?
* AIHW: R Kreisfeld & JE Harrison 2019. Pedal cyclist deaths and hospitalisations, 1999–00 to 2015–16. Injury research and statistics series no. 123. Cat. no. INJCAT 203. Canberra: AIHW.