Children who cycle to school are more physically active and fitter than those who use other modes of transport, according to new research from the University.
The findings, published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, are based on a study of 6,000 10-16-year-olds from the East of England whose cardiorespiratory fitness and travel habits were assessed.
Pupils from 23 schools completed a school travel questionnaire and underwent a 20-metre shuttle run test to assess their fitness levels. It was recently reported that children’s performance in this test has declined over the past ten years.
Researchers found boys who walked to school were 20 per cent more likely to be fit compared with those using motorised transport and girls who walked were 30 per cent more likely to be fit.
Boys who cycled to school were 30 per cent more likely to be fit but there was a dramatic difference among female cyclists, who were seven times more likely to reach the minimum fitness standard than girls who were driven to school.
In all cases, children who were driven to school had the lowest levels of physical fitness, being less fit than walkers, cyclists and children who took the bus.
Cyclists were also found to be more physically active at other times of day when compared with children using other transport modes.
Although cyclists and car users were most different in terms of physical fitness, the distances they travelled to school were about 1.5 miles for cyclists and only about two miles for car users. Half of these car journeys were less than two miles and 15 per cent were less than a mile.
This research by Dr Gavin Sandercock and Christine Voss, of the Department for Biological Sciences, backs up previous findings from European countries where cycling is common.
Even though the East of England has some of the highest rates of cycling to school in the UK, only eight per cent of the sample cycled to school compared with over 50 per cent in Denmark or Holland.
Commenting on their findings, Dr Sandercock said: ‘The positive associations between active travel and fitness are so strong that cycling should be encouraged, especially in girls.’
He added that good cardiorespiratory fitness was paramount in terms of children’s health and said active school transport may be an easy way to build physical activity into every day life.
Previous research has shown that cycling to school may also create an active commuting habit, contributing to lifelong health benefits.
Dr Sandercock said more money for interventions like the Sustrans Bike It project, which can triple the number of children who cycle to school, was needed as well as investment in infrastructure to support ‘safe routes to schools’.
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