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Public Health England backs a regular dose of bike riding

England’s major preventative health agency has concluded that regular physical activity such as bike riding and walking would provide substantial health benefits across the national population.

An array of research studies into the question were reviewed by Public Health England, and the results were published for use by health care professionals.

"Regular physical activity benefits long-term health, including mental health, and helps to prevent over 20 common health conditions”, the report says.

"The UK Chief Medical Officers’ guidance for adults includes 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week, and that the easiest way to achieve this is through daily activity such as walking and cycling."

The report says that 42% of women and 34% of men in England are not active enough for good health, with human and economic costs for the individual, communities and health and social care systems.

The most recent estimates are that physical inactivity costs the National Health Service more than A$790 million a year, A$14 per person.

"This rapid evidence review is intended for health and social care policy makers, decision makers and commissioners and attempts to address the following question: “What is the impact of walking and/or cycling on different health outcomes?”

The review found that walking and cycling benefit health in a number of ways:

  • People who walk or cycle have improved metabolic health and a reduced risk of premature mortality
  • Walking and cycling reduce the risk factors for a number of diseases, including cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, some cancers, and Type II diabetes
  • Walking and cycling also have positive effects on mental health and general well-being. The mental health and neurological benefits include reduced risk of dementia, improved sleep quality, and a greater sense of wellbeing
  • In environmental terms, health benefits accrue for the general population from a reduction in pollution due to car use and a decrease in road congestion
  • The evidence is that the health benefits of walking and cycling outweigh any potential health risks and harms – for example from injury or pollution.

"The weight of evidence suggests that if walking and cycling can be increased, they have potential to lead to important health gains at the population level, and thus benefit the NHS and the wider health and care system.

"The evidence is stronger and more consistent for certain health outcomes, and evidence gaps remain in some areas.

"There is little direct evidence about whether walking or cycling to work might have different health effects to walking or cycling for leisure."

The Government has set an aim to double cycling activity to 1.6 billion trips per year to aid population health and wellbeing as well as to improve road congestion, air quality, and economic and local development.

In 2018, Government ministers asked for a clearer summary of the population health benefits and impacts that are specific to walking and cycling.

This was to strengthen the national narrative on the benefits of walking and cycling, and to make the health impact case more accessible to local and national system partners.

See the full report here.

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