Sitting in traffic on your way to and from work every day has never been anyone’s idea of a good time. Turns out it’s not very good for your health, either. Dr. Gavin McCormack, an associate professor at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine. “Evidence is building that sedentary behavior is connected to a host of adverse health effects,” he says. “That includes sitting in cars as well as too much screen time.”
One possible solution? Trade those four wheels in for two and opt for a bike commute. Turning physical activity into a regular part of your workday schedule makes it easier to stay active. As a result, your health, your finances and the environment can all benefit. Here's how cycling to work can have a positive impact on your wellbeing:
1. You’ll save money by bike commuting
You’re paying a premium for the privilege of sitting in traffic during your commute. Let’s say your mid-sized car uses 8L of gas for 100 km. If you drive 10 km to work one way, that’s about 416L a year, just to commute. At $1.17 per litre, it will cost you about $486 a year. And that doesn’t count wear and tear, depreciation, parking or insurance. Compare that to the cost of an annual bike tune-up, which can be less than $100.
2. You’ll boost your heart health and muscle strength
Starting and ending your day with an active commute can enhance your overall fitness. Health Canada recommends adults get 2.5 hours of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each week. And cycling to work counts, McCormack says. Researchers in Japan and the United States found cycling improves heart fitness, and helps increase muscle mass and strength. That was especially true for older people.
3. You’ll lower your risk of diabetes and cancer
The physical activity of a bike commute can help keep you healthier for longer. “Cycling is just like any type of physical activity,” McCormack says. “Regular physical activity provides health benefits such as improvements in heart health and a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes. It also lowers the risk of certain cancers, including breast and colon cancer, and fosters a healthier body weight.” New research also suggests that the more you cycle, the greater the heart benefits and the lower your type 2 diabetes and colon cancer risk.
And if you swap your sedentary commute for an active cycling one, you’ll compound these health benefits. “[You’re] less sedentary, which improves health aside from physical activity,” McCormack says. “And [you’re] also gaining benefits from the physical activity itself.”
4. You’ll improve your mental health
A breezy, active commute can enhance your mood. Montreal communications manager, Rebecca Galloway noticed this right after she began cycling three kilometres to and from work each day. “I always feel better when I bike,” she says. “The fresh air clears my head. A few years ago while living in Toronto, I remember one sweltering hot day in July. I was whizzing by the streetcar on my bike, and everyone on board looked so miserable and sweaty. I felt really happy to be on my bike that day!”
The mental-health benefits of regular physical activity go beyond boosting your mood. “Moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily is enough to lower the risk of depression,” McCormack says. “And some studies suggest physical activity can help in managing or treating depression.”
5. You’ll help protect the environment, too
All that driving isn’t just bad for you, it’s also a major source of carbon emissions. In Canada in 2017, passenger cars and light trucks gave off 85.1 megatonnes of greenhouse gases. That was nearly 12% of all the emissions in Canada that year. The average 50-minute roundtrip Canadian commute adds to that figure. Switching to a green commute, like cycling, shrinks your carbon footprint and keeps the environment cleaner for everyone.
How to start bike commuting
Start with the basics. Galloway recommends a helmet, lights, annual bike tune-up and, if you’re planning to commute in the snow, winter tires. Then be sure to plan your route to and from work. “Google Maps will map out your bike-path options with its bike filter when you search for directions,” she says. “Some cities also offer recommended bike-path maps.”
Has it been a while since you’ve been on your bike? Before you head out in rush hour, make sure you know the traffic laws for cyclists in your community. That includes using the right hand signals. Then practise riding near home on weekends until you feel confident and wobble-free. When you’re ready, head out in rush hour. It’s also a good idea to wear a reflective vest over your clothes. That way, you’ll be more visible to drivers and pedestrians. That’s particularly helpful in the rain or when early mornings are still dark.
Is cycling part of your workplace wellness program?
Does your employer offer a wellness program as part of its workplace health and benefits package? Ask about incentives for cycling to work. “If they absorb those little maintenance costs,” Galloway says, “your commute can be totally free.”
What if you live too far to bike to work?
Do you live too far from work to commute by bike? Think about cycling instead of driving to your nearest train, subway or bus station. And however far you cycle, be sure to get a good, strong bicycle lock and use it faithfully.