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health issues of commuter cycling

RiatsalaRiatsala Posts: 44
edited June 2010 in Commuting chat
I have seen two articles this weekend about how it is bad for your health to commute in cities by bicycle. This apparantly is due to the higher quantity of particles you inhale. Has anyone else read this? Does anyone else have some counter arguements?
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  • whyamiherewhyamihere Posts: 7,408
    It's worse to be in a car. You'll spend longer in traffic jams right up behind someone else's exhaust, as well as often being in a lower position than a cyclist (the harmful particles are generally heavier than air, so fall towards the ground).
  • EArmstrongEArmstrong Posts: 25
    Breathing particulates isn't particularly dangerous, our lungs are designed not to really take in more than they handle, unless it's all you can breathe.

    I would say, as whyamihere has already, its worse to be sat in a car with your fans on, as the air intakes are in the front of the vehicle, right about the level of the exhaust of the car in front.

    What they don't point out, is that its infinitley less healthy to be sat on your fat censored in a car :P
  • prj45prj45 Posts: 2,208
    whyamihere wrote:
    It's worse to be in a car. You'll spend longer in traffic jams right up behind someone else's exhaust, as well as often being in a lower position than a cyclist (the harmful particles are generally heavier than air, so fall towards the ground).

    Apparently not for exposure to nano particles:

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/e ... 140213.ece

    OP, a link is always useful.

    The research here is mighty suspect though as the first comment points out not all particles will be ingested.
  • rjsterryrjsterry Posts: 18,969
    Was going to post about this myself. Apparently there has been some new research, measuring the quantities of nanoparticles (also called particulates) inhaled by cyclists, pedestrians and motorists in Brussels and Mol (a much smaller town in Belgium), and due to cyclists higher breathing rate, the syggestion is that they/we inhale more of these potentially harmful particulates. Apparently these particulates are found more in diesel emissions than in those from petrol engines, and due to there incredibly small size (millionths of a millimetre), they can actually pass from the lungs into the bloodstream (so a mask won't help you there). I haven't read the original report of the study by Luc Int Panis, published in the journal Atmospheric Environment, but here is the link to the Times Online article on it

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article7140213.ece

    The interesting thing is that this study has measured a part of air pollution that has not been previously measured (as far as I understand it), and that this seems to partly contradict the perception that cyclists are better off than motorists. Anyone on here who might be qualified (at least more than us lay people) to comment on the study.
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  • AndyMancAndyManc Posts: 1,393
    Research is produced every 6 months contradicting the research done 6 months previous.

    For the past 25yrs health officials told the public they shouldn't be eating more than 2 eggs a week because of the high levels of cholesterol, recently, they told the public, ignore that, the type of cholesterol in eggs isn't the ones we were thinking of.

    As far as air quality is concerned, it's appalling, I think Manchester Piccadilly gardens has some of the worst polluted air in Europe.

    More power to the cyclist cause.


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  • meanredspidermeanredspider Posts: 12,550
    EArmstrong wrote:
    as the air intakes are in the front of the vehicle

    Not sure that's accurate - most are just in front of the windscreen.

    There are masks that will filter out these particles but not the sort of thing you'd want to wear on a bike.

    I guess all this depends what speed you're doing. If you're walking at 4 mph and breathing one every 4 seconds (say) is that not worse that cycling at 16 mph and breathing once every 2 seconds?
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  • Eau RougeEau Rouge Posts: 1,118
    Potentially breathing particulates is not the only health-related aspect of commuting by bike.
    I'd be fairly sure all the benefits outweigh all the ill effects.
  • rjsterryrjsterry Posts: 18,969
    No mask (that you could still breathe through) will stop particles a few millionths of a millimetre across, but yes, given that the thrust of the Int Panis study was that cyclists breathe harder than motorists or pedestrians, and so inhale more of them, if a pedestrian was walking briskly enough, this would create a similar effect. I may be extrapolating a little too far here, as I have only read the Sunday Times article, not the original study.

    I would say that this study does fit with my own personal experience - a recurrence of mild asthma related symptoms when cycling in London, after years of being essentially symptom free. these symptoms do not recur when cycling in the North Downs.
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  • cjcpcjcp Posts: 13,345
    Better by bike than tube! I had black snot when I commuted by tube.
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  • milan_nsmilan_ns Posts: 49
    How about a contra argument:
    http://www.science.unsw.edu.au/news/air ... -research/

    Waiting on traffic lights behind a 2-stroke scooter is probably not very healthy.

    Luckily bikes are quite versatile vehicles (also do not have.. ahem... registration plates... wink-wink) so I do my best to avoid traffic jams by using residential roads.

    Downside is that by skipping main roads you won't have as many other cyclists to race on your way to work :)
  • cjcp wrote:
    Better by bike than tube! I had black snot when I commuted by tube.

    I get black snot every time I visit London. And this is coming from someone who hails from the clean-air zone that is Teesside.
  • always_tyredalways_tyred Posts: 4,965
    Old news rebranded as news?

    If you are particularly worried, avoid heavy traffic routes.

    For sure there will be some down sides, but that article is a little irresponsible (gosh, really?) by comparing the issue with that of smoking (guess that the author forgot about asbestos, or had a strict word count). As one of the comments says, there are ample studies showing that cyclists even in notably polluted cities such as Beijng, live longer on average. So this is either a scientist getting carried away with the implications of their "research" (which was simply to measure smaller particles in exactly the same way as other airborne pollutants have previously been measured to come up with an entirely predictable and not terribly groundbreaking result) or a journo taking things and running with them.

    For example: Joint pain - cyclists could be damaging their joints and it could therefore be more healthy to stay home and sit on your ar$e all day so your joints don't wear out. :roll:
  • rolf_frolf_f Posts: 16,015
    Breathing rate might be higher but exposure time less.

    Ultimately, there is no point taking notice of reports on research. Only the research itself has any meaning. The results of any research that have been filtered by a government minister or a journalist are bound to be completely misinterpreted and oversimplified.
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  • MadammeMarieMadammeMarie Posts: 621
    Me thinks the manufacturers of anti-pollution masks are behind this research....! 8)
  • milan_nsmilan_ns Posts: 49
    Or... auto-industry strikes back :)
  • MadammeMarieMadammeMarie Posts: 621
    Actually, I was talking b****ks before reading the article, which also says that wearing a mask offers little protetcion!

    Which is also b*****ks. My first cycle though the city was w/o a mask, felt awful when I got back home, bought mask, massive difference.
  • fnegronifnegroni Posts: 794
    edited June 2010
    Incredible how this piece of "news" has made it to the press just in time for our new Trasnport Secretary, the renowned comedian Philip Hammond (so says Wikipedia anyway).

    Pollution is bad for every living being. WHatever they do.
    A cyclist will of course have a chance of inhaling more *if* said cyclist is using the cycling as a way to get fitter.
    At relatively slow speeds the breathing rate of a cyclist is equivalent to that of a pedestrian, yet covering more miles.

    Why don't they publish the correct statistic, which is "amount of pollution inhaled per unit of time per unit of ditance", which is what most people care about.
  • rjsterryrjsterry Posts: 18,969
    Me thinks the manufacturers of anti-pollution masks are behind this research....! 8)

    Unlikely, as the particulates in question would not be stopped by any face mask that you could cycle in (and I wear a face mask regularly, as it has a noticeable effect - let's not get into the "Do face masks work?" one again, it's almost as boring as the helmet debate).

    I'm particularly interested in this kind of research as I've recently been through a series of appointments with consultants, chest x-rays and so on to try and work out why some asthma symptoms had started recurring after about 20 years with no symptoms. This recurrence coincided with the times I was cycling into London, and it was eventually decided that some component of the air pollution was probably aggravating my airways. If you don't suffer from any problems breathing London (or any other urban area) air then lucky you, but before we write it off as just another anti-cycling health scare, it would be worth taking the time to find and read the original study.
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  • kurakokurako Posts: 1,098
    Just one question springs to mind; If cycle commuting is unhealthy what are the alternatives and what makes those any better?

    If someone can come up with a good argument why cramming on a crowded Northern Line train with all and sundry and their assorted germs is better for me than cycling I'd be interested to hear it.

    Until then I'll stick to what I enjoy.
  • GussioGussio Posts: 2,452
    Suspect that the heart / lungs / spiritual benefits of cycling outweigh particulate concerns.
  • rjsterryrjsterry Posts: 18,969
    I don't think even the Times article was saying that 'cycle commuting is unhealthy' bar perhaps the headline, but that one aspect of air pollution seems to affect cyclists more than previously thought. One of the things I have a very low resting heart rate thanks to my cycling (about 50 ish depending on how relaxed I am), so I think that despite the well documented and personally experienced adverse effects of inhaling London air, I have experienced a net health benefit by cycling. But this still does not invalidate the observation that poor air quality has a detrimental effect on my health.

    Also, just because previous studies have appeared to show the opposite effect - that car drivers experienced greater concentrations of air pollutants than cyclists - weren't necessarily wrong. They were probably measuring a different constituent of air pollution. I'm fairly sure that you couldn't design a single study to look at all of the different constituent parts of air pollution simultaneously and their relative effects on health (plus of course some kind of control group breathing, what, carefully filtered air imported from the top of the Swiss Alps?), let alone get any meaningful results out of it.
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  • HeadhuunterHeadhuunter Posts: 6,494
    cjcp wrote:
    Better by bike than tube! I had black snot when I commuted by tube.

    Not only that but I'm sure I read somewhere that a lot of older Tube trains still have asbestos lined brakes or something and there is still a fair amount of asbestos around in Tube tunnels in general...
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  • lost_in_thoughtlost_in_thought Posts: 10,563
    I had black snot when I commuted straight across Zone 1. By bike.

    However, it was a very heavy traffic route, taking in such delights as the Barbican tunnel, High Holborn and Oxford Street.

    I'm sure there's lots of research that says they're actually making the environment a happy place and producing tiny baby deer, but buses and other big diesels were by far the worst for fumes.
  • MonkeyMonsterMonkeyMonster Posts: 4,628
    cjcp wrote:
    Better by bike than tube! I had black snot when I commuted by tube.

    Not only that but I'm sure I read somewhere that a lot of older Tube trains still have asbestos lined brakes or something and there is still a fair amount of asbestos around in Tube tunnels in general...

    Not exactly sure they'd really be able to still have asbestos lines brakes tbh but maybe. Think there is one vacuum tube train for all of the network and they can't run it that much now due to money so there is lots of build up of censored from brakes and people that floats about a lot.
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  • Stevo_666Stevo_666 Posts: 44,054
    Eau Rouge wrote:
    Potentially breathing particulates is not the only health-related aspect of commuting by bike.
    I'd be fairly sure all the benefits outweigh all the ill effects.
    I'd like to think that's the case. Trouble is my better half has seen these articles as well and is having a go at me for commuting by bike now :evil: I need more evidence to counter this, along the lines of Milan_ns' link.
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  • lost_in_thoughtlost_in_thought Posts: 10,563
    Stevo 666 wrote:
    Eau Rouge wrote:
    Potentially breathing particulates is not the only health-related aspect of commuting by bike.
    I'd be fairly sure all the benefits outweigh all the ill effects.
    I'd like to think that's the case. Trouble is my better half has seen these articles as well and is having a go at me for commuting by bike now :evil: I need more evidence to counter this, along the lines of Milan_ns' link.

    Just tell her you're not going to stop, regardless of the research, and to wind her neck in. Works for me, but then I'm the girl.
  • Stevo_666Stevo_666 Posts: 44,054
    Stevo 666 wrote:
    Eau Rouge wrote:
    Potentially breathing particulates is not the only health-related aspect of commuting by bike.
    I'd be fairly sure all the benefits outweigh all the ill effects.
    I'd like to think that's the case. Trouble is my better half has seen these articles as well and is having a go at me for commuting by bike now :evil: I need more evidence to counter this, along the lines of Milan_ns' link.

    Just tell her you're not going to stop, regardless of the research, and to wind her neck in. Works for me, but then I'm the girl.
    Don't worry, I have no problems holding my position on this one and she knows I won't stop unless I want to. Some empircal research will help stop the general whining noise though, as I will certainly not have heard the last of it - I'm sure you'll appreciate how persistent women can be :wink:
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  • rjsterryrjsterry Posts: 18,969
    Never mind general statistics, why not be specific. Get yourself fully checked out and then present your other half with a full MOT as it were, showing exactly how cycling has benefitted your health. Maybe a bit of an over-reaction but difficult to argue.

    BTW, here is the link to the original study

    http://198.81.200.2/science/journal/13522310

    (You need to pay for it)

    I'm sure there are numerous studies correlating cycling (or other physical activity) with improved health and lifespan.
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  • HeadhuunterHeadhuunter Posts: 6,494
    cjcp wrote:
    Better by bike than tube! I had black snot when I commuted by tube.

    Not only that but I'm sure I read somewhere that a lot of older Tube trains still have asbestos lined brakes or something and there is still a fair amount of asbestos around in Tube tunnels in general...

    Not exactly sure they'd really be able to still have asbestos lines brakes tbh but maybe. Think there is one vacuum tube train for all of the network and they can't run it that much now due to money so there is lots of build up of censored from brakes and people that floats about a lot.

    I don't know the details but there's a lot of asbestos in older buildings and machinery etc all over the UK and the world. I used to live in a 70s built flat in Islington and the hallway cupboards were asbestos lined. As long as it's in situ and not damaged it's often left in place as to remove it causes a lot of dust to escape. As bestos was used extremely widely through the 60s and 70s it was miracle fire retardant and cheap to produce.
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  • Stevo_666Stevo_666 Posts: 44,054
    rjsterry wrote:
    Never mind general statistics, why not be specific. Get yourself fully checked out and then present your other half with a full MOT as it were, showing exactly how cycling has benefitted your health. Maybe a bit of an over-reaction but difficult to argue.

    BTW, here is the link to the original study

    http://198.81.200.2/science/journal/13522310

    (You need to pay for it)

    I'm sure there are numerous studies correlating cycling (or other physical activity) with improved health and lifespan.
    Good point - thanks for the idea. Pity I didn't have a 'before' report to compare with the 'after' but in any event something to try if this persists :) I will try the free options first though !
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