How a 20 minute bike commute can add 9 years to your life.

Most of us are familiar with Danish epidemiologist Lars Andersen’s work showing how cyclists live longer (a neat little wrap up here).  There’s also the Harvard study that shows cycling, not walking, is a common factor among middle aged people controlling their weight. Well this week a new study appeared in the journal preventative medicine that explains why cyclists live longer, and by how much: 9 freaking years! How? Well, cycling makes our telomeres longer. That’s right, our telomeres. I’m not referring to anything in our knicks or plain clothes, but rather those nucleoprotein caps at the end of our chromosomes:

To be perfectly honest, it’s not actually cycling that gives us longer telomeres than the next guy. It’s the MET minutes accumulated from 40 minutes of vigorous exercise 5 days per week. You can exercise at half intensity, that’s fine, for example by going for a brisk walk. You would just have to walk for 80 minutes per day, not forty, and I doubt you have time.

Given we all live busy lives and have no interest in gyms, jogging or organised sports, it falls to designers of the built environment to give us this 40 minute intense workout 5 days per week. There are two things in the built environment that get our hearts into that intense exercise zone. One is the staircase. Unfortunately—short of building everyones houses up in the clouds and connecting them to the ground only with stairs—it is impossible to build 40 minutes of stair climbing into every citizen’s day.

We’re left with the bike path. By planning a city so that average trip distances are 6 or 7km (pretty standard for most cities anyhow) and are faster by bike than other available modes, you have built a city where people will have longer telomeres and, on average, live an extra nine years.

So there’s a little tidbit to share with people in positions to change a whole city with a bicycling network. What use is this information to you? As a reader of this blog you’re probably already riding 40+ minutes per day and quite intensely, regardless of where in your city you live. But what about your partner and children? For their sake, should you sell up and move to an apartment on level ground, right next to your city’s best bike path? If they’re not cycling as enthusiastically as you, and you don’t want to go to their funerals, I think you should move.