We’re very excited here at Health@Work because this week is National Bike Week, and we love getting out and about. The initiative is designed to encourage everyone to get on their bike – in order to feel fitter, happier, and better connected, all while helping the environment. We asked our Brighton based Wellbeing Consultant Jack Newnham to write us a short article on the benefits of pedal power!
Picture the scene: You arrive at work feeling energised, focused, healthy and have lots more money in your bank account. If the question is how do I get this? Then the answer is most definitely cycling!
In the UK we may not be a nation of cycle lovers like some of our European counterparts, but with huge successes at elite level, perceptions of cycling seems to be shifting. This has led to a steady increase in the number of people riding bikes in recent years.
In terms of cycling to work, the numbers are still small though, with around 4% of commuting trips being cycled each year. This is compared to 56% taken by car.
So why might cycling to work be a good idea? There’s the cost element. According to the website Cycle Scheme, people could save over £3000 a year if they ditched the car in favour of cycling to work. I certainly like the sound of an extra £3k per year! Then there’s the health benefits. On average, cycle commuters take one less sick day per year. And a large study found a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease in those who cycled to work compared to taking the car.
But let’s not kid ourselves here, these benefits don’t always spring to mind first thing in the morning when we want convenience. Jumping in the car each morning is something we’ve been doing for a long time and it is just so easy. If it’s going to happen some of the barriers to us doing it need to be knocked down. It might be seeing our easiest route to work, having somewhere to safely lock our bike or being able to change easily at work: suddenly the thought of cycling becomes more appealing.
From a business perspective, this is where the Workplace Wellbeing Charter helps. It can embed active travel into the culture of an organisation. Having an active travel plan is one of the ways in which this can happen, helping employees plan their routes and calculate distances. The Charter requires organisations to promote physical activity opportunities to their employees and cycle to work schemes may be part of these. This allows people to get a bike without paying any tax or national insurance, which means saving a big chunk off a shiny new bike. In larger organisations we’d be hoping to see that employers provide places where people can change at work, store equipment and provide shower facilities.
Away from cycling to or from work, there are other ways in which organisations can promote pedal power. Longer, charity bike rides are an option. These can be a great way to improve morale amongst employees and raise money for charity in the process. Over the past few years I have been lucky enough to take part in a few of these. The highlight was cycling to Amsterdam last summer with a group of 50 people, around 10 of them were from the company that I worked for. Cycling though the Dutch countryside and have a few drinks in the evenings gave us a very different setting to chat and interact. When we got back in the office there was a lot more to chat about and a different way to see each other. Not only that, but people got pretty healthy in the process. The cycling gave one guy the impetus to change his diet. Amazingly this combined effort put his diabetes into remission.
So, from my biased perspective cycling is a beautiful thing. If some of those barriers are taken away, and a few more of us pedal our way to work, individuals and businesses alike will reap the benefits!
Why not use National Bike Week to begin promoting the benefits of cycling to your workforce or perhaps send out reminders of facilities/services your company have that support a physically active workplace. You can also use the free Physical Activity section of our Workplace Wellbeing Charter self-assessment to audit and benchmark your organisation against best practice at www.wellbeingcharter.org.uk