Active transport (cycling and walking) are effective ways of getting adequate physical exercise.(1,2,3,4) Cycling is a convenient, cheap, low impact, environmentally friendly form of transport which, as a daily physical activity, is more likely to be maintained than other leisure-time physical activities.(5)

Cycling can also be conveniently combined with other public transport modes, such as trains and buses, for longer distances.

Countries where people use active transport have lower rates of obesity.(6) In Denmark where many people cycle to work, it has been shown that commuting cyclists have a substantially lower mortality rate.(7) A recent study of 7,000 Australians showed that those who drive a car to work are 13% more likely to be overweight or obese and are less likely to engage in adequate levels of physical activity.(8)


Lack of physical activity is second only to tobacco as the most important health risk in Australia.(9) National guidelines recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most, preferably all, days for adults; and 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensity physical activity every day for children and young people.(10)

Regular physical activity increases life expectancy and reduces the risk of chronic illness or death.(9,11)


In Melbourne the proportion of journey to work trips undertaken by car in 1951 was about 20%,(12) rising to 83% in 2001.(13) In 2003, 88% of urban passenger kilometres in Australia were travelled by car.(14) The trend to less active travel also extends to children, who are walking or cycling less often than in the past. A survey of over 1,000 families from 19 Melbourne primary schools revealed that less than half of 5 and 6 year olds, and less than two thirds of 10–12 year olds, walk or cycle to school once a week or more.(15) Getting children out of cars, and using active transport instead, is believed to be the single most effective way to improve physical activity rates and reduce obesity in children.(16)

Walking or riding to school or around the neighbourhood is also important for children’s social development, particularly by increasing their knowledge of their local areas, their ability to use other modes of transport and their sense of independence.(17,18,19)


Cycling has lower injury rates than most other forms of sport, exercise and active recreation(20).

One study has suggested that regular cycling provides a net benefit to personal health that outweighs its risk of injury by a factor of 20 to 1.(21)

Motor vehicles are the most significant source of harm in the transport system, and pedestrians and cyclists bear a disproportionate burden of traffic risk.(22) Road safety is increased by shifting people out of cars and promoting cycling, walking and public transport. Cycling becomes safer when more people cycle, bike paths and lanes are provided and the overall speed of traffic is lower.(23,24)


Air pollution contributes to respiratory cancer and infections, asthma, cardiopulmonary disease, irritation of the eye, nose and throat, and wheezing.(25) Each year, air pollution from cars causes between 900 and 2,000 early deaths and between 900 and 4,500 cases of bronchitis, cardiovascular and respiratory disease, costing between $1.5 and $3.8 billion.(26) Cars are a major contributor to air pollution, producing dust and fine particulates, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, ozone and hydrocarbons. These pollutants also contribute to climate change, which will bring dramatic population health impacts in the future.(25) In America, carbon emissions are closely related to the total number of kilometres travelled by cars. (27) Cycling for transport (not just leisure), by replacing car trips, avoids contributing to these sources of air pollution, thereby helping to reduce future population health problems. Although exposure to air pollution is complex and difficult to estimate, using a bicycle instead of a car can reduce exposure to pollutants. Travelling by bicycle provides some flexibility to avoid pollution and not travel on busy roads. Even on the same road, cyclists may be exposed to fewer pollutants, as the pollutants decrease rapidly at the sides of the traffic stream and particulates tend to accumulate in the car cabin if outside air is coming into the cabin.(28)


Exposure to excessive noise pollution causes hearing loss, heart disease, sleep disruption, increased risk of traffic accident involvement (noise can cover warning signals) and decreases our mental and social well-being.(29,30) Cycling is a quiet mode of transport. Replacing car trips with bike trips will allow the hidden sounds of our cities to be heard and help to create a cleaner, less polluting, more pleasant environment.


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Principal Author Sarah Hinde