Anyone who knows us, knows we cycle: to the shops, on our holidays, for the lols and, of course… to work. Cycling to work is great! You get fit, you start the day energised and your wellbeing is on average better than those that don’t actively commute to work (BBC article to prove it) – plus its basically free!
However, knowing all this, I still have my doubts. Stuck in traffic, holding my breath, fearing the effects of the toxic air being pumped out of the back of a bus straight into my lungs, I do ask myself – is this healthy? Any cyclist will tell you, you can physically taste the air pollution when you’re stuck at a red light – and it doesn’t make you feel any healthier pedalling away after a mouthful of PM2.5.
So I wanted to find out: does the immediate benefits of cycling to work outweigh the long term effects of air pollution?
After some quick research I found the Guardian had asked the same question back in 2014, pointing out that the main villains are indeed diesel engines with too many of our roads, both city & country, exceeding EU regulations. The story hasn’t changed! Yet again, 1 week into 2016, London exceeded it’s EU limits for the year!
Any amount of air pollution is bad for our health. Full stop. It doesn’t take a genius to work that out. If you already suffer from asthma, diabetes or heart and lung conditions then the advice given by doctors is to not exercise in heavily polluted areas (see here for a map on where not to go for a run). Even worse, air pollution has an immediate effect on the mortality rates in infants (please don’t cycle behind that bus with your child in tow), long term exposure is linked to increased dementia and we all know it’s estimated to be responsible for 40,000 premature deaths every year!
BUT, according to research, you are actually better off cycling than in a car. Because we move through the traffic quickly, can choose back routes and journeys tend to be shorter than those in the car – we are better off! Wouldn’t we all just be better off if there was absolutely no air pollution though!
Thankfully, individuals (and birds) are taking monitoring of the air around them into their own hands (and wings): Pidgeon Air is among the latest initiative getting information out to people fast and portable air quality monitors are more readily available – allowing people to remind their MPs and policies makers that they are breaking EU law if pollution is too high.
From all this research I found the answer to my question a complex one – in short cycling is good for you but avoid long term exposure to those air polluted routes!
I think it’s time for a cleaner, greener London. Where we have fewer worries about air pollution, cyclists are safer and streets are much more pleasant to walk along!
For more information on cycling in London (and elsewhere!) check out:
- Boris’ vision
- Reduce your exposure
- Advice on exercise in London
- British Lung Foundation
- How to avoid toxic fumes