Success in London health craze

By | Health & Wellness
There are nearly 10,000 Boris bikes available to hire within the UK's capital: Grobs flickr

In 2010, Mayor of London Boris Johnson launched the capital’s cycle hire scheme in collaboration with Barclays. Four years later and a study from the British Medical Journal that followed over 500,00 users of the scheme has highlighted the positive health benefits of the project and left a reassuring message to the cost of the scheme and development of the city.

Last year the ‘Boris bikes’ received contradicting media attention; news reports showed an £11 million per year sum for UK tax payers in order to fund 4,000 bikes available for hire. A study from Cambridge University, however, has counteracted many questions about the scheme, revealing that the health of London’s population has seen a significant improvement thanks to the cycle hire scheme and the benefits even outweighed the risks posed by cycling in the city.

Using data collected from every journey made on a Boris bike between April 2011 and March 2012 the information was combined with surveys from cycle hire users about physical activity, road traffic incidents and air pollution in central London. Results showed that men and the relatively few older cyclists of 45 and older achieved the most pronounced benefits and that the benefits “substantially outweighed” the harms, when the injury rates for hired bike usage were taken into account.

Co-study author Dr Anna Goodman, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said: “When the cycle hire scheme was introduced, there were widespread concerns that increasing the number of inexperienced cyclists in central London would lead to higher injury rates. Our findings are reassuring. They suggest that the scheme has benefited the health of Londoners and that cycle hire users are just as safe as regular bike users.”

The research was measured by the Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) system. The system balances improvements to health from the physical activity of cycling with the effects of physical injury and inhaling traffic fumes. Results concluded that for all men in the study, the combined gain was 72 years and 15 years for woman. The key benefit for men was reduction in heart ailments whilst for women the largest benefit was seen in improving mental conditions.

The most promising findings were the effects of the cycle hire on older age groups. The study found that although the injury potential increased with age, the benefits of exercise for the 45-59 age group were significant as cycling was one of few physical activities the older age group would regularly participate in.

Dr James Woodcock, a population health scientist from the MRC Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge, noted that the health benefits could be even greater if cycling was safer, in comparison to cycling schemes in Netherlands.

“The Netherlands manages to achieve high levels of safe cycling, by providing high quality infrastructure that physically protects cyclists from busy, fast moving traffic.” He said.

The Boris bikes are swiftly becoming part of the London culture and are a growing popular trend in most Europe capitals. Based on the study it estimated that trips from the bike users would otherwise have been made on public transport (47%) or on foot (31%). The cycle scheme is an easy, affordable and safe way to travel around the city and gain a dose physical exercise.

What other methods of public transport would you like to see improved or changed to be more eco- and health-friendly?

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