If you’re one of the millions of Britons who commutes to work every day, you’re likely used to arriving at the office feeling more than a little stressed. Traffic jams, train strikes and overcrowded tube carriages are enough to make anyone sweat with rage – making it doubly unfair that we have to battle with them before our day has even really begun.
But according to a new study, there’s an easy way of reducing that pre-9am ordeal – and it’s as simple as getting on your bike.
Researchers at Concordia University in Montreal have discovered that cycling to work can help reduce stress and improve work performance throughout the day.
The study, published in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management, compared how three different modes of commuting – cycling, driving and taking public transport – affected people’s stress levels and mood at work.
It found that cycling to work was by far the best way to start the day. “Employees who cycled to work showed significantly lower levels of stress within the first 45 minutes of work than those who travelled by car,” says Stéphane Brutus of the John Molson School of Business, the study’s lead author.
Brutus adds that if we arrive at work stressed, that’s likely to have a big impact on how our days pan out. “Early-morning stress and mood are strong predictors of their effect later in the day,” he says. “They can shape how subsequent events are perceived, interpreted and acted upon for the rest of the day.”
The study is based on data collected from 123 employees at a software company in Montreal, all of whom either cycled, drove or took public transport to work.
It confirms previous research that showed that cyclists already perceived their commutes as being less stressful than people who travel by car.
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People who work in higher level managerial, professional and administrative occupations are most likely to bike to work at least once a month – and men are more than twice as likely to cycle to work than women.
This could be partly attributed to the fact that women are perceived by some as being more vulnerable on the roads, particularly when they’re cycling near lorries. An internal report for Transport for London concluded that women cyclists are far more likely to be killed by HGVs (heavy goods vehicles) because they tend to obey red lights and wait at junctions – positioning them in a lorry’s blind spot.
Men, in contrast, are more likely to jump red lights, taking them out of the ‘danger zone’ if the lorry turns left.
However, it’s important to remember that in the long term, cycling deaths are actually falling – and biking to work can be hugely beneficial. A major study published in the British Medical Journal in April found that cycling to work was associated with a 52% lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 45% lower risk of developing cancer when compared to commuting by car or public transport. Overall, cycle commuters were at a 41% lower risk of death.
As a result of that study, scientists at the University of Glasgow called on the government and local councils to do more to invest in cycling infrastructure, so that more people felt confident and comfortable about getting on their bikes.
“If decision makers are bold enough to rise to the challenge, the long-term benefits are potentially transformative,” said Dr Jason Gill.
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