Arrive Healthier: Commuting to Work via Pedal Power
March 14, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Researchers say commuting to work on bicycles
can improve strength and lower the risk of heart disease. A new study shows how
much inactive, but otherwise healthy, people would benefit from pedaling to
work. "The greatest health benefits are achieved when the least active
individuals become moderately active," writes researcher Ingrid J. M.
Hendriksen, of the Aeromedical Institute in Soesterberg, Netherlands.
"This study is in line with everything we believe," says Jody
Newman, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists, who reviewed
the study for WebMD. "That's why we encourage more people to bike."
In the U.S., the American Heart Association (AHA) says a lack of physical
activity is clearly a risk factor for heart disease. The AHA estimates are that
up to 250,000 deaths per year in the U.S. -- about 12% of total deaths -- are
due to a lack of regular physical activity. In contrast, Hendriksen reports
that as many as 34% of the Dutch population 15 years and older is physically
One of the activities the AHA recommends is bike riding three or four times
a week for 30-60 minutes for improving the fitness of the heart and lungs.
Though the AHA considers bike riding a "vigorous aerobic activity," in
the Dutch study, researchers purposely wanted to see if cycling at a lower
intensity could be of benefit. "The intensity of commuter cycling is not so
high because people do not wish to become sweaty if they are going to
work," the authors write.
For the study, 87 male and 35 female office workers from two companies in
Amsterdam volunteered to cycle regularly to their workplaces. They didn't
exercise but were generally healthy. All were between 25 and 56 years old.
All subjects underwent exercise tests for strength, heart, and lung capacity
to determine their maximum physical performance level. They were then divided
into two groups. One group, dubbed "the cycling group" rode their bikes
to work a minimum of three times per week for six months. The average commuting
distance was almost two miles. Meanwhile, the comparison group commuted as they
always had. At six months and one year, all subjects were again measured for
their fitness level. At the end of the first six months, the comparison group
began cycling to work as well.
After the first six months of commuter cycling, researchers found strength
increased more than 10% for both men and women. While the women's lung capacity
dipped slightly, the men showed a 6% increase. Though they had only cycled for
six months, the comparison group's results approached those of the original
cycling group by the end of the year. Hendriksen believes this illustrates that
the greatest rate of fitness improvement peaks at six months and levels off