Riding to work linked to better mental health

Scientists have found that people who ride bikes to work may benefit from enhanced mental health.

New research from Scotland examined the commuting habits of nearly 380,000 residents and found those who biked to work were less likely to be prescribed medication for depression and anxiety.

The study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, combined census data from 2011 with NHS prescription records for the following five-year period.

At the outset, the 378,253 study subjects did not have any prescriptions for mental ill-health. All were aged 16-74, lived within 2km of a bike path and were categorised as either bike commuters or non-bike commuters based on their responses to the census.

Over the five-year period, the researchers found a 15% reduction in prescriptions for mental health medication among the bike commuting group, compared to the control group. They also found that bike commuting led to a greater reduction in mental health prescriptions in women than men.

The team describes the relationship between bike commuting and mental health as causal, rather than a correlation.

“Our finding that this economical and sustainable method of travelling to work also enhances mental health suggests that a policy of investing in cycle paths and encouraging active commuting is likely to have wide-ranging benefits,” says lead author from the University of Edinburgh, Laurie Berrie.

"Not only could this improve peoples’ mental health, it could also help reduce carbon emissions, road congestion and air pollution.”

The study builds on an expanding body of evidence linking physical activity to improved mental health, including one published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine last year linking exercise to a reduced risk of anxiety and depression.

It is well established that physical activity is good for our well-being, but this compelling evidence of the benefits of bike commuting may provide a little extra motivation for weekday workers weighing up their transport choices.

Of course, riding to work does more than just boost our mental health. It can save time and money, fight climate change and even increase productivity. Find out more at our Ride2Work page.

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