Boris bikes make Londoners healthier: Study

Regular exercise trumps dangers posed by accidents and air pollution

Boris bike users in London – particularly men – are healthier than their car-driving, public transport using counterparts – despite their exposure to injury and smog.

That's the result of a large-scale modelling study led by the Medical Research Council which was published in the British Medical Journal today.

The study also found that the Barclays Cycle Hire scheme, whose bikes are dubbed 'Boris bikes' is used more by men than women and was used by relatively few people aged 45 and older.

Older users benefited the most from the regular short bouts of exercise, claimed the study. The authors suggest that encouraging greater use of the scheme among older users – which could be brought about by improved safety measures – would amplify the health benefits.

The research was conducted by MRC researchers in partnership with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the UCL. They assessed data from every single Boris bike journey between April 2011 and March 2012 and incorporated data on changes in physical activity, injuries and exposure to air pollution.

The study's Senior author, Dr Anna Goodman, an NIHR Postdoctoral Fellow at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the study contradicted a belief when the cycle hire scheme was launched that large numbers of inexperienced cyclists could lead to greater numbers of injuries.

“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, as we found no evidence of this. On the contrary, our findings suggest that the scheme has benefited the health of Londoners and that cycle hire users are certainly not at higher risk than other cyclists.”

Little research about the health benefits of other cycle hire schemes around the world exists, despite their increasing prevalence. New York launched its Citibike scheme last year and a number of programmes exist in Australian cities such as Adelaide and Brisbane. 

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