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Exercise Such as Cycling Prevents Almost 4 Million Early Deaths Every Year

By Jiri Kaloc

You probably don’t need additional reasons to keep cycling if you’re a long-time reader of We Love Cycling. But it always feels good to know that there’s a higher purpose for this exercise we all enjoy so much. A recent study published in The Lancet Global Health by researchers at the Universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh suggests that it’s saving millions of lives every year!

150 active minutes per week

Researchers analysed data for 168 countries to see how many people meet the World Health Organization global recommendation of at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity in one week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity. This varied substantially between countries, from only 33 % of people in Kuwait, 64 % for the United Kingdom, to 94 % for Mozambique.

London Cyclist
64 % of people in the UK adhere to the WHO recommendations. © Profimedia, Alamy

Premature deaths down by 15 %

Researchers used estimates of the relative risk of dying early for active people compared to inactive people to see how many lives are saved thanks to exercise. Globally, the number of premature deaths was 15 % lower than it would have been without exercise. This means roughly 3,9 million lives saved per year! In low-income countries, an average of 18 % of premature deaths was prevented compared to 14 % for high-income countries. For example, in the USA, 140,200 early deaths were prevented in one year and 26,600 in the UK.

A positive message needs spreading

Media often focus on the opposite message, saying things like 3,2 million die prematurely each year due to lack of exercise. But researchers from this study believe that by showing how many deaths are prevented, it might be possible to frame the debate in a positive way.

Friends Cycling
Take your friend out for a ride. You’ll be doing him a favour. © redsnapper / Alamy / Alamy / Profimedia

“We’re used to looking at the downsides of not getting enough activity – whether that’s sports or a gym or just a brisk walk at lunchtime – but by focusing on the number of lives saved, we can tell a good news story of what is already being achieved. It tells us how much good is being done and helps us say ‘look how much benefit physical activity is already providing – let’s make things even better by increasing physical activity levels further’. We hope our findings will encourage governments and local authorities to protect and maintain services in challenging economic climates,” said lead author, Dr Tessa Strain.

The message is clear: the more people we will get into cycling the better for everyone! Go get your friend excited about the next group ride. You’re doing something for public health!