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Elena Smith
Professor Reed
English 101
8 August 2014
The Effects of Lifelong Cycling Habits on Cardiovascular Health
According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, cardiovascular disease is the
leading cause of death in the United States (Leading Causes of Death). Research has shown
that cardiovascular disease is largely preventable. One of the simplest, most common, and least
expensive ways to prevent heart disease is exercise. Given that the United States spends trillions
of dollars on healthcare per year, it is important to have a cost effective way to prevent disease.
Encouraging people to exercise is difficult though as Americans typically lead very busy lives.
One efficient way to obtain physical exercise is to implement an active mode of transportation in
daily life. Cycling is a good way to commute to work, school, and run short errands. Establishing
an active mode of transportation like cycling as a lifelong habit can help prevent cardiovascular
disease.
The best way to integrate cycling into daily life is to switch from an inactive commute to
an active one. Americans spend a lot of time in their cars, especially when commuting to and
from work. If this time were spent exercising rather than sitting passively in a car, imagine the
effects it might have on heart health. Millett et al. did a cross-sectional study to determine the
effects of active travel on hypertension, diabetes, and weight status, all of which are closely
associated with cardiovascular disease. Nearly 4,000 subjects were included in this study from
both urban and rural areas and from varying economic and social classes. The researchers were
able to determine the cardiovascular risk factors of the subjects by measuring their weight,
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height, blood pressure, food intake, and physical activity. The researchers found that those who
commuted by bicycle had the lowest rate of hypertension and diabetes among all commuters as
well as the fewest cardiovascular risk factors. This shows the immense effect that an active
commute can bring. Cycling to work, school, or even the grocery store can help prevent the
leading cause of death in the United States. Researcher and author, Dan Buettner, wrote a book
called The Blue Zones in which he traveled the world to find geographic locations that had an
unusually high number of centenarians. A common theme among all these locations was the
implementation of exercise in daily life. The centenarians did not make time specifically for
exercise. None of them wasted time driving to the gym, working out, and driving home. Instead,
they got their exercise from farming and cycling or hiking through hilly areas to the nearest
market. If residents of the United States were to adapt to this way of life by using active travel,
specifically cycling, rather than passive travel, there would likely be an increase in
cardiovascular health and a subsequent increase in the nations longevity.
Its never too early to start improving cardio health. Several studies have shown that
childhood is a great time to implement cycling into daily life and make active travel a life-long
habit. Too often, people learn to ride a bicycle in early childhood and then dont step anywhere
near a bike again until adulthood. Children in society today usually either get dropped off at
school by their parents/guardians or take the bus. If more children began riding their bikes to
school, perhaps the younger population would see an increase in cardiovascular health. Anderson
et al. conducted a longitudinal study to investigate the cardiovascular profiles of children who
rode their bikes to school compared to children who used other modes of transportation. The
subjects completed a fitness test on a cycle ergometer where their workload continuously
increased until the subjects could no longer pedal. At the baseline, the nine year old subjects who
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cycled to school had higher fitness levels than those who used other modes of transportation.
After six years, the researchers found that the subjects who cycled were not only more fit, but
had lower cardiovascular risk factors and smaller waist circumference as well. This study
supports the idea that the cardiovascular health of children will increase if they commute by
bicycle. Children who cycle to school and cycle more than the average child in general will
likely form habits that will benefit them throughout their lives.
Now there is the big question of how. How can cycling as a mode of transportation be
implemented as a form of preventive care for adults and children alike? Getting Americans to
become more active is not easy. The evidence that riding to work has serious health benefits is
clear, but people still come up with excuses not to ride their bikes. One way to increase active
travel is to encourage it in the workplace. Researchers, Wen, Kite, and Rissel, surveyed a group
of parents on whether their workplaces encouraged active travel such as cycling, walking, and
public transportation. The survey also included questions about the ease and safety of actively
commuting. The results showed that the subjects whose workplaces encouraged active transport
were significantly less likely to drive their cars to work. This is a notable finding because
encouragement of one workplace can make a difference for a lot of employees. For example, if a
large company were committed to putting an emphasis on cycling to work, tens of thousands of
employees could potentially be on their way to improving their cardiovascular health profiles
and preventing disease. However, not enough companies are putting emphasis on this. Wen et al.
found that only a fifth of the subjects workplaces encouraged active travel. Some workplaces
may not have the funds to make commuting by bike safer and easier, but there are low-cost ways
to encourage more employees to find alternatives to driving. Companies could provide indoor
bike storage or set up competitions between employees to see who can record the most miles
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ridden. This is a fun and easy way to increase physical activity and improve cardio health. The
study also noted that the subjects were parents of elementary school children, which means that
employees who chose more active commutes were not able to drive their children to school on
the way to work. While this could be seen as a downside to a bike commute, it can also be seen
as a benefit. Not having access to a car may force children to also find alternative commutes and
would therefore increase the number of children cycling to school. This means that if more
companies were to encourage cycling to work, it would not only directly affect the employees,
but their families as well. And if businesses can have such a large effect on the cardiovascular
health of employees and their families, imagine the vast effects that the government could have if
there were a greater push for active travel, and more roadside safety laws were implemented for
cycling commuters.
Cycling is a great way to improve cardiovascular health, and the most effective way to
accomplish this is to implement it into daily life. Riding to complete weekend errands,
encouraging children to ride to school, and taking advantage of bike routes for work commutes
are all life changes that can have tremendous health benefits. Heart disease killed 597,689 people
in the United States in 2010 (Leading Causes of Death). Thats almost 20,000 more deaths
than cancer and more than the third, fourth, and fifth leading causes of death combined. With
some incentives from businesses, schools, and the government, residents of this nation have the
power to incorporate cycling in their lives and change this statistic.
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Works Cited
Andersen, Lars Bo, et al. "Cycling to School and Cardiovascular Risk Factors: A Longitudinal
Study." Journal Of Physical Activity & Health 8.8 (2011): 1025-33. Web.
Buettner, Dan. The Blue Zones. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society, 2009. Print.
"Leading Causes of Death." FastStats. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Dec.
2013. Web. 26 July 2014.
Millett, Christopher, et al. "Associations between Active Travel to Work and Overweight,
Hypertension, and Diabetes in India: A Cross-Sectional Study." Plos Medicine 10.6
(2013): e1001459-. Web.
Wen, Li Ming, Kite, James and Rissel, Chris. "Is there a Role for Workplaces in Reducing
Employees' Driving to Work? Findings from a Cross-Sectional Survey from Inner-West
Sydney, Australia." BMC Public Health 10 (2010): 50-. Web.