(Photo Credit: Paul Krueger via Compfight cc )

According to a Vancouver-based physician, the health benefits of cycling, something well-known to casual and serious riders alike, extend beyond those in the saddle. By advancing health and fitness, a shift towards cycling, whether by choosing it as a lifestyle pursuit or investing in bike infrastructure, could save taxpayers millions of dollars in the long run.

As published in Vancouver’s Georgia Straight, Dr. Rita McCracken — known to Twitter users as #FamilyDocOnABike — referred to cycling as a “three-in-one” solution, providing for travel, getting sufficient exercise, and significantly reducing stress levels.

Speaking to the Straight, McCracken outlined her thinking on the subject. “If we could get everybody on their bikes,” she said, “we would see improvements in physical and mental health. And the conversation around personal stress management would be more practical and less intimidating.” It’s a view that’s substantially backed up by some hard numbers in the medical world, with the British Medical Journal having recently looked at the commutes of workers over a five-year period. Last year, the journal noted that regular cycling slashed the overall risk of death by 41 percent, reduced the likelihood of cancer by 45 percent, and dropped the risk of heart disease by 46 percent.

A generally sedentary lifestyle, McCracken said, is a growing problem among Canadian youth, but a civic commitment to developing and expanding bike infrastructure — something for which Vancouver is lauded — could play a major role in solving it.

“Vancouver has been an amazing experiment in the introduction of infrastructure to increase access to safe cycling,” she said. “The separated bike lanes, for my family and my six-year-old daughter, have been absolutely transformational.” And while the development of cycling infrastructure comes with a price tag, what it saves taxpayers overall in terms of health care costs — $150 million in direct savings per year, based on a 10 percent increase in cycling — makes the investment more than worth it.

“The bike lanes aren’t free,” she said, “but they’re not a huge ongoing expense, either. It’s not like the creation of a massive new recreation centre, which needs constant maintenance and programming.”

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