Cycle Commuting: A Panacea for the Physical and Mental Health of Canadians?Posted on June 27, 2018
Interest in cycle commuting is growing. According to the 2016 census, the number of cycle commuters in Canada increased by 61.6% between 1996 and 2016 (87.9% in census metropolitan areas, those with a population of 100,000 or more) (Statistics Canada, 2017a & 2017b). However, this represents only 1.4% of commuters, leaving ample room for improvement.
Research published in the British Medical Journal reports significant health benefits associated with cycling to work (Celis-Morales et al., 2017). Cycle commuters had a 41% lower risk of dying from all causes than people who drove or took public transportation. They also had a 46% lower risk of developing and a 52% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease; and a 45% lower risk of developing and a 40% lower risk of dying from cancer. The numerous other health benefits of cycling include improved wellbeing (Glackin & Beale, 2017; Zander, 2013), and even a strong immune system as we age (Duggal et al., 2018).
Given these benefits, and the opportunity for increase, perhaps cycle commuting should be prioritized by policy makers to address current concerns about the physical and mental health of Canadians?
Encouraging Canadians to Get on their Bikes
Efforts to inspire the nation to dust off their 10-speeds (or enlist their carbon fiber wonder bike) to cycle commute must be supported by a variety of action from the individual to policy levels. These include:
- Safety concerns are the number one deterrent to cycle commuting. However, evidence suggests these fears are ungrounded (summarized in an infographic), and that the benefits of cycling outweigh the risks by 9:1 (with estimates as high as 96:1) (Teschke et al., 2012). Many of the concerns can be addressed through smart infrastructure and safe practices. Helmet use is proven to reduced odds of head injury, serious head injury, facial injury and fatal head injury (Oliver & Creighton, 2017). Make sure your helmet is properly fitted.
- Workplace facilities are necessary to make cycling a realistic option for many. Secure bike storage and shower facilities ensure bikes are safe from theft and vandalism, and cyclists are comfortable once at the office.
- Infrastructure investments are essential to supporting more cycle commuting. According to Hull and O’Holleran (2014), city planners must consider a range of factors to ensure effective design, including safety, consistency, attractiveness, and community design (i.e., mixed-use communities that make active transportation an easy choice for errands and other short trips).
- Driver and cyclist education and practice are perhaps the most overlooked component of this puzzle. This includes side guards for heavy trucks, and obeying the rules of the road. Infrastructure projects are introducing a range of new signage, road paintings and physical “road furniture” (e.g. bollards – short, sturdy, vertical posts; and chicanes – curb extensions that narrow the roadway). Drivers and cyclists alike need to understand new signs, signals and regulations for them to be effective (click here for an overview).
Among the top tips for those interested in starting cycle commuting is completing a dry-run on the weekend so you’ll know where to go, how long it will take, and what to expect in terms of effort. Why not take the kids along? Children who cycle are more likely to become adults who cycle commute. Jump on your bikes today and reap the physical and mental health rewards!
Helmet FAQ, Parachute Canada
Bike to Work: Tips for Your First Commute, Active.com
About the Author: As SIRC’s Content Manager, Sydney Millar solicits, supports and curates content from researchers, experts and thought leaders from the broad sport and physical activity sector. She has a hilly 18km ride to work, through Gatineau Park from Chelsea QC to Ottawa ON.
Celis-Morales Carlos, A., Lyall, D.M., Welsh, P., Anderson, J., Steell, L., & Yibing, G. (2017). Association between active commuting and incident cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mortality: prospective cohort study. BMJ 357:j1456
Duggal, N.A., Pollock, R.D., Lazarus, N.R., Harridge, S., & Lord, J.M. (2018). Major features of immunesenescence, including reduced thymic output, are ameliorated by high levels of physical activity in adulthood. Aging Cell, 17(2), e12750.
Glackin, O.F. & Beale, J.T. (2017). “The world is best experienced at 18 mph”. The psychological wellbeing effects of cycling in the countryside: an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, 10:1, 32-46,
Hull, A. & O’Holleran, C. (2014). Bicycle infrastructure: can good design encourage cycling? Urban, Planning and Transport Research, 2:1, 369-406.
Oliver, J., Creighton, P. (2017). Bicycle injuries and helmet use: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Epidemiology, 46(1): 278–292.
Statistics Canada (2017a). Journey to work: Key results from the 2016 Census. The Daily. Ottawa, ON: Statistics Canada.
Statistics Canada (2017b). Census in Brief: Commuters using sustainable transportation in census metropolitan areas. Ottawa, ON: Statistics Canada.
Teschke, K., Reynolds, C.C.O., Ries, F.J., Gouge, B., & Winters, M. (2012). Bicycling: Health risk or benefit? UBC Medical Journal, 3(2):6-11
Zander, A., Passmore, E., Mason, C., & Rissel, C. (2013). Joy, Exercise, Enjoyment, Getting out: A Qualitative Study of Older People’s Experience of Cycling in Sydney, Australia. Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 547453.