Cycling to work is better for people’s mental health than driving to work, according to a new study.
Research by health economists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the Centre for Diet and Activity Research (CEDAR) in the United Kingdom found that people who stopped driving and started walking or cycling to work benefited from improved well-being.
In particular, commuters who walked or rode bikes to work felt better able to concentrate and were under less strain than if they traveled by car, according to the study.
These mental health benefits are in addition to the physical health benefits of walking and cycling, according to researchers.
The researchers also found that commuting on public transport is better for people’s psychological well-being than driving.
“One surprising finding was that commuters reported feeling better when traveling by public transport, compared to driving,” said lead researcher Adam Martin from UEA’s Norwich Medical School.
“You might think that things like disruption to services or crowds of commuters might have been a cause of considerable stress. But as buses or trains also give people time to relax, read, socialize, and there is usually an associated walk to the bus stop or railway station, it appears to cheer people up.”
For the study, the researchers studied 18 years of data on almost 18,000 commuters in Britain between the ages of 18 and 65. The data let the researchers look at many aspects of psychological health, including feelings of worthlessness, unhappiness, sleepless nights and being unable to face problems.
The researchers also accounted for numerous factors known to affect well-being, including income, having children, moving, changing jobs, and relationship changes.
The study also found that the length of a person’s commute is important to well-being.
“Our study shows that the longer people spend commuting in cars, the worse their psychological well-being,” Martin said. “And correspondingly, people feel better when they have a longer walk to work.”
Data from the 2011 Census of England and Wales shows that 67.1 percent of commuters use cars or vans, compared to 17.8 percent who use public transport, 10.9 percent who walk, and 3.1 percent who cycle.
“This research shows that if new projects such as London’s proposed segregated cycleways, or public transport schemes such as Crossrail, were to encourage commuters to walk or cycle more regularly, then there could be noticeable mental health benefits,” Martin concluded.
The new report contradicts a UK Office of National Statistics study, “Commuting and Personal Well-being, 2014,” published in February, that found people who walked to work had lower life satisfaction than those who drove to work, while many cyclists were less happy and more anxious than other commuters.
According to researchers, the new study looks at commuters who changed travel mode from one year to the next, rather than comparing commuters who were using different travel modes at a single point in time.