Cycling to work makes commuters less likely to be prescribed anti-depressants, new study finds

A study of almost 380,000 people shows that cycle commuters are 15% less likely to suffer from anxiety or depression

Clock10:00, Tuesday 16th January 2024

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Commuting by bike is linked to reduced prescription of anti-depressants

New research shows that commuters who cycle to work are less likely to be prescribed antidepressants. The study, conducted by the University of Edinburgh, analysed data from 378,253 people in Scotland, and found a 15% reduction in prescriptions for depression or anxiety amongst cycle commuters, compared to their non-cycling counterparts.

According to the research, cycling to work led to a greater reduction in mental health prescriptions in women than men, although men were more likely to take up cycle commuting.

To reach their findings, the researchers combined data from the 2011 Scottish census with NHS prescription records for the following five years. They used data for people aged 16-74 who lived and worked in Edinburgh or Glasgow, the two biggest cities in Scotland.

Dr Laurie Berrie, of the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences, said: "Our study used the fact that otherwise similar people are more likely to cycle to work if they live close to a cycle path.

"Using this property, it was possible to mimic a randomised controlled trial and compare the mental health of those who cycled to work to those using other modes of transport but who were otherwise comparable."

Read more: Everything you need to know about the Cycle to Work scheme

Professor Chris Dibben from the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences led the study. He said: "Our finding that this economical and sustainable method of travelling to work also enhances mental health suggests that a policy of investing in cycle paths and encouraging active commuting is likely to have wide-ranging benefits.

"Not only could this improve people's mental health, it could also help reduce carbon emissions, road congestion and air pollution."

The scale of this study on commuters is entirely new, but the fact that cycling has been good for our mental health has been known for some time. Four years ago, we explored the topic on GCN, visiting the University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes to find out what happens to the brain when we cycle.

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