Cyclists in polluted air still are better off

The benefits of cycling and walking outweigh the negative impact on health from air pollution.

"Active travel" such as cycling benefits health but there have been concerns about pollution. Photo / Jason Oxenham

“Active travel” such as cycling benefits health but there have been concerns about pollution. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Diet and Activity Research and Medical Research Council Epidemiology Unit, and researchers from the University of East Anglia, said regular exercise reduced the risk of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and several cancers. One way to get moving is through “active travel”, such as walking or cycling, but concerns have been raised about the impact of pollution – particularly in urban environments.

Experts used data from epidemiological studies and meta-analyses to create computer simulations comparing risks and benefits for different levels of intensity and duration of active travel and of air pollution in different locations around the world.

The study, published in Preventive Medicine, concluded that only 1 per cent of cities in the World Health Organisation’s Ambient Air Pollution Database had pollution levels high enough to overcome the benefits of physical activity after half an hour of cycling every day.

“Our model indicates that in London, health benefits of active travel always outweigh the risk from pollution,” said study lead Dr Marko Tainio, from Cambridge. “Even in Delhi … people would need to cycle over five hours a week before pollution risks outweigh health benefits.”

– AP