Bicycle wheel with pedals

“Even a short bicycle ride was associated with health benefits.”

Longevity hacks

One type of exercise reliably lowers your risk of death, scientists say

Biking decreases the risk of mortality for those with diabetes, reports a new study. Scientists say this benefit is likely to be seen by all cyclists.

For those of us who use cars, trains, or feet to get everywhere, there’s a special feeling of accomplishment when we’ve used a bike to propel us to work or social engagements.

That feeling is a swirl of sweat, endorphins, and, yes, maybe even a hint of self-satisfaction.

But cycling around town does more than just impart good feelings, at least according to a study published on July 19 in JAMA Internal Medicine. Researchers found that people with diabetes who cycled consistently, compared to those who didn’t cycle at all, had a 35 percent lower risk of mortality.

“This study showed health benefits for all levels and durations of cycling, so I would recommend people with, and without, diabetes cycle for as long as they enjoy,” Rita Redberg tells Inverse.

Redberg is a cardiologist at the University of California, San Fransisco’s hospital and an editor at JAMA Internal Medicine. She contributed to an editor’s note highlighting the new study.

HOW THIS AFFECTS LONGEVITY — It’s clear from previous studies that biking offers significant health benefits. For example, a 2000 study found, in a very large group of people in Copenhagen without diabetes, biking to work was linked to a 39 percent decrease in mortality risk.

According to Redberg, biking can be even more beneficial than walking, which has been the focus of a number of recent studies on the benefits of physical activity for those with diabetes.

“... higher intensity exercise will improve the cardiovascular system at a higher rate and to a higher level.”

But Redberg and other experts argue the results are transferable to everyone, not just people with diabetes.

“Despite the limitations of an observational study and the possible selection bias of people who are able to cycle, it is important to share this evidence for the potentially large health benefits of cycling, which almost surely generalize to persons without diabetes,” the editors of JAMA Internal Medicine write in their note.

And while on a population level, any kind of cycling will do, other experts say the duration and intensity of a bike workout do matter.

Remzi Satiroglu is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education at the University of Texas, Austin. He’s the lead author of a 2021 study on short, high-intensity bike workouts and their health benefits, and tells Inverse that with the approval of a doctor, “People need to cycle intensely. Compared to lower intensities, higher intensity exercise will improve the cardiovascular system at a higher rate and to a higher level.”

WHY IT'S A HACK — This study suggests that all people may see significant health benefits if they add cycling into their routine.

“Even a short bicycle ride was associated with health benefits,” Redberg says, “and it would be hard to do too much cycling.”

A cyclist in Crown Heights, Brooklyn delivers groceries as part of a mutual aid group.

Scott Heins/Getty Images

In the study, people who spent the least amount of time a week biking — just one to 59 minutes — still lowered their risk of mortality compared to those who didn’t bike at all. Other studies have found that in the short term, even a 10-minute bike workout was associated with notable improvements in fitness markers.

It’s also true that not everyone has an easy time biking. Whiter, more affluent neighborhoods tend to have more walkable, bikeable conditions, and people that tend to bike more are mostly male. But despite these elements of privilege, census data suggests that, in the United States, the largest group of bike commuters are also in the lowest income bracket. Whether or not this by choice is not examined in the data.

Still, some places are safer to bike in than others — and in places where infrastructure isn’t friendly to bikers, citizens are missing out on a healthy, cost-effective means of transportation.

Biking is one way to reduce emissions: It reduces air pollution and the fuel you’d be burning in a car.

Compared to Leisure-Time Physical Activity (LTPA), biking just a few hours a week steeply decreased the risk or hazard ratio of death from all causes and cardiovascular disease — but up to a point.

JAMA Internal Medicine / Ried-Larsen et al.

SCIENCE IN ACTION — For this study, researchers looked at information collected about 7,349 adults with diabetes as part of a longer longitudinal study called EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition). EPIC collected data about people across 10 Western European countries.

They used information from surveys given to the adults on two separate occasions:

  • The first between 1992 and 2000
  • The second five years after their first survey

The first survey asked how many minutes of cycling a week they engaged in and the second survey determined if they had begun to cycle in the interim period, stopped, or stayed the same. Researchers determined who of their original group had died and compared it to their cycling habits.

The researchers adjusted their analysis so it wouldn’t reflect other factors associated with health, including but not limited to smoking, exercise besides cycling, and high blood pressure.

The results suggest those who hadn’t cycled at either the first and second surveys had a higher risk of dying in the following eleven years compared to those who had been cycling the whole time or that had at least started cycling. Those that had taken up cycling in the study period had a 35 percent lower risk of dying than those who hadn’t cycled at all over 5 years.

This doesn’t necessarily mean the participants were at a high risk of dying in the first place — but it’s still relative influence. Biking isn’t just a way to get from point A to point B, it’s a means to live a more healthy life.

HACK SCORE OUT OF 10 — 🚴🚴🚴🚴🚴🚴 (6/10 bikers)

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