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When work become monotonous…just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin

Comment by Paul Leeson, EAPC Exercise, Basic and Translational Research Section

Sports Cardiology

H.G. Wells the English novelist commented that ‘Whenever I see an adult on a bicycle, I have hope for the human race.’ A hundred years later, a new paper by Grontved et al (1) appears to support this statement

The Vasterbottens Health Study includes information on how 23,732 Swedish people travel to work. The authors of the paper used this data to study associations between mode of transport and development of cardiovascular risk factors over a ten year period. They noticed that those who were cycling to work when they first took part, as well as those who started cycling during the study, were less likely to have developed a range of health problems when seen again ten years later. The average age of the participants at the start of the study was 43 years and the potential health problems this group was facing are significant.

By the time of follow up 25% had developed hypertension, 20% glucose intolerance and nearly 10% had become obese. Interestingly, the benefit of cycling was not the same for all risk factors. Whereas it reduced by a quarter the incidence of the less frequent health issues, such as obesity, benefits for more common problems, such as emergence of hypertension, were more subtle, only reducing risk by 6%. Nevertheless, there was a dose effect with the more cycling being undertaken the lower the risk of developing a risk factor.

What is not fully explained is why the benefit appeared only to relate to cycling. Walking to work did not influence emergence of disease. This special quality of cycling could explain why another English novelist, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, wrote: “When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”


Note: The content of this article reflects the personal opinion of the author/s and is not necessarily the official position of the European Society of Cardiology