Benefits of cycling


Although many people think of health in terms of illness, health is a positive concept that covers your physical, mental and social well-being (Department of Health and Children, 2000). Physical activity benefits every aspect of your health.

Adults start to get health benefits from at least 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity, such as brisk walking. This means an average of at least 30 minutes of activity on five days a week is recommended for health. Children and young people need at least 60 minutes of moderate physical activity daily. It is clear from the SLÁN and HBSC studies that most Irish adults and children are not active enough to be healthy.


Regular physical activity reduces your risk of chronic diseases, such as coronary heart disease (CHD), type 2 diabetes, stroke, cancer, osteoporosis and depression. For older people regular physical activity reduces the risk of falls and resulting injuries. US studies show that regular physical activity reduces many health risks for everyone; children, adolescents, adults, people with disabilities and older adults, across all ethnic groups (Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, 2008). As you get more active, more often and for longer you reduce your risk of chronic disease.

Obesity is a major public health concern in Ireland (Department of Health and Children, 2005). The less active you are, the more you are at risk of being overweight. The 2007 SLÁN report showed that 38% of Irish people were overweight and another 23% were obese. When the figures from SLÁN 2007 are compared with figures from previous SLÁN surveys and the 1999 North/South Ireland Food Consumption Survey (Irish Universities Nutritional Alliance 2001), they show that there has been a notable increase in the levels of overweight and obesity. One in five Irish children and teenagers is overweight or obese (Irish Universities Nutrition Alliance, 2008).

To be a healthy weight, you need to take regular physical activity and eat a healthy diet. This ensures a balance between the energy you get from food and the energy you use.

Even when you do not lose weight, you may still benefit from being more active. Studies show that active adults who are overweight or obese gain similar health benefits to people with a healthy body weight.  

All adults (including adults with disabilities and older adults)

Strong evidence of:

  • better cardio-respiratory and muscular fitness
  • less weight gain
  • more weight loss – combined with eating fewer calories
  • better weight maintenance after weight loss
  • lower risk of early death
  • lower risk of stroke
  • lower risk of coronary heart disease
  • lower risk of high blood pressure
  • lower risk of unhealthy blood lipid profile
  • lower risk of type 2 diabetes
  • lower risk of metabolic syndrome
  • lower risk of colon and breast cancer
  • fewer falls
  • reduced levels depression
  • better cognitive function in older adults

Some evidence of:

  • lower risk of hip fracture
  • lower risk of lung cancer
  • lower risk of endometrial cancer
  • stronger bone density
  • better sleep quality
  • reduced abdominal fat

US Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee, 2008  

The healthcare system would benefit from reduced costs if people became more active. An Australian study estimated that if Australian people became more active for just 30 minutes per day, it could save $1.5 billion (€815 million) a year in costs linked to coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, colon cancer, depression and falls. This equals 17% of the total health costs linked with the medical conditions included in the study (Medibank, 2007).

The level of inactivity in Ireland is even higher than in Australia, so the possible cost benefits of increased activity may be even greater.

The benefits of physical activity far outweigh the possible risks. Few people are likely to injure themselves taking part in moderate intensity activities for the duration recommended in the guidelines.

Evidence shows that only one injury occurs for every 1.000 hours of walking activity, and fewer than four injuries occur for every 1.000 hours of running. The most common injuries are minor, short-lived musculo-skeletal ones, such as straining a muscle or tendon.

You can reduce the possible risks by:

  • increasing the level of physical activity gradually over a period of time
  • wearing suitable clothes and footwear
  • using appropriate equipment and protective equipment and
  • being active in safe places.
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