It’s a widely held belief that people inside cars are protected from the pollution they create, yet we know this to be false.
However, we’re not exactly immune to the carcinogenic cocktail of fumes out on our bikes either. Getting our heart rates up, whilst great for our cardiovascular health in ideal conditions, it’s not quite so great on the polluted streets of our city.
A new study from the University of British Columbia says that cyclists who ride faster breath deeper, thus inhaling more toxic air pollution.Therefore, the scientists recommend that cyclists of both sexes over the age of 20 should keep to 9.3mph to reduce the damaging effects of increased pollution in the lungs.
Whilst we can’t downplay the role pollution has in all of our lives –it does prematurely end the lives of around 30,000 of us every year after all, the benefits of cycling still greatly outweigh the downsides of not cycling. In 2008 physical inactivity was attributed to 676,000 deaths. So, let’s not get too carried away.
Now, 9.3mph or 14.97Km/h sounds like a weirdly specific target to aim for, doesn’t it. Indeed, without some sort of cycle computer or aftermarket speedometer fitted to your bike it’s not a target you are likely to hit deliberately. So, some common sense is needed.
The crux of the matter is, you should try to keep your heart rate (and therefore your breathing) down, particularly if you are riding in heavy traffic during rush hour. However, if you have any control over your working hours, be that through flexible working hours; shift working; or being self-employed it may be worth getting up an extra hour earlier and missing much of the school-run and pre-9am traffic. Hopefully you’ll also get out an hour earlier and miss the traffic on the way home too.
It is also worth looking at the route you normally take too. Are there alternative routes you can take to avoid the static traffic? Some roads have more traffic lights and junctions than others and you may be able to bypass them by taking to the residential routes.
The nuts & bolts of the issue…
Whilst we can take steps to minimise the dangers of living in a car-obsessed city, there’s no getting around the apparent injustice of not being able to breathe freely on the streets of any city in the world without putting ourselves at risk.
We can legislate against smoking; we can consider the idea of taxing sugar; we can put measures in place to minimise most other health risks yet the car is apparently untouchable.
We can place the car quite high on the list of reasons why the air is polluted; why people are inactive; and why 16,727 children lost their lives as a result of collisions in 2014. Oh, but try taking some parking away for a cycle lane or a bike rack and you’ll never hear the end of it.