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Cycling: Good Health and Life Expectancy
Toolbox: Sure you’re an athlete, and sure you may be able to roll out century rides easily. You might even be a keen racer. And all the cycling you do is supposed to improve your health, decrease your risk for major illnesses, and help you live to a ripe old age, right?

“Driving an F1 car is not a particularly healthy thing to do [...] I want to live a quality life when I’m old, and not suffer from horribly degenerated discs.” Four-Time Formula One World Champion, Sebastian Vettel. When I first heard this quote, I was surprised. It’s rare that a professional athlete considers life after sport, but Sebastian Vettel is clearly thinking in the long-term. These days, I spend more time working with racing drivers than cyclists, but Sebastian’s quote is relevant to any athlete, professional or amateur.

The late Felice Gimondi (76) and Eddy Merckx (74)

PEZ readers, being an active bunch, are probably not a very representative sample, but in wider society, sedentary activities at home, coupled with technological advances in the workplace, mean that we spend a lot more time sitting than we used to. This change has a number of significant, potentially negative, health consequences (1).

Global life expectancy has doubled
Global life expectancy has doubled since 1900 (2), but while we’re living longer, we’re living ‘sicker’. The top three global killers are associated with cardiovascular disease (3) while physical inactivity is a primary cause of most chronic ailments (4).

As our weekly minutes of physical activity decrease, risk of premature death significantly increases (5). In fact, there seems to be a dose-response association between total sitting time and the risk of dying from anything. Riding our bikes regularly is an effective and fun way to reduce this risk, improve our health and quality of life, but it may not be enough…

Does cycling make us immune to the negative impact of sedentary behaviour?
“I ride my bike multiple times every week!” I hear you cry “surely I’m immune to the effects of sedentary behaviour?” I used to believe the same thing, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Many road-cyclists are weekend warriors, who spend the majority of their days pursuing relative sedentary ‘knowledge work’. Unfortunately, it appears that we can’t ‘out-exercise’ our desk-jockey lifestyles.

In 2009, researchers studied 17,013 people aged between 18-90 years old. They found a dose-response relationship between sitting time and dying from anything. Perhaps more significantly, they found that this risk was independent of overall physical activity levels (6). It doesn’t matter how active you are. If you sit down for long periods, you are increasing your risk for chronic disease.

These findings have been supported by a number of other studies. Those of us sitting for 11 hours or more per day are at the greatest risk, regardless of how much physical activity we do (7). Sitting for six hours per day, versus three hours, significantly elevates our risk of death, especially from cardiovascular disease, in both men and women (1).

Roubaix - wielrennen - cycling - radsport - cyclisme - oud winaars en voormalige deelnemers aan Parijs-Roubaix doen de mooiste plaatsen aan van de Ronde van Vlaanderen en de Hel van het Noorden in de »Superklassieker» met aankomst op de wielerbaan van Roubaix - Francesco Moser op de Koppenberg  - foto Cor Vos ©2009
Francesco Moser, still riding the cobbles at 68

How long do you spend sitting?
A typical ‘knowledge worker’, someone who manages information for a living rather than doing manual work, spends 8 hours in the office, 45 minutes commuting to work each way, and a significant amount of their free time watching TV, or surfing the internet. The majority of their day is spent sitting, even if they worked out hard on their turbo-trainer for 60 minutes in the morning.

Take a moment and consider how long you spend sitting each day. Simply moving more, and moving more regularly throughout the day, even if you have to set an alarm to remind yourself to stand up and walk around now and again, can have a powerful influence on reducing the risk of disease, death and improving quality of life (8).

While reducing sedentary behaviour isn’t the most ‘sexy’ topic in sports science, whether you’re a Tour de France aspirant or enthusiastic amateur, getting off your butt more regularly could be one of the best ways to enjoy a long and healthy life, on and off the bike.

Robert Marchand set the 105-year-old World hour record

1) Patel, A.V., Bernstein, L., Deka, A., Feigelson, H.S, Campbell, P.T, Gapstur, S.M, Colditz, G.A, Thun, M.J. (2010) Leisure time spent sitting in relation to total mortality in a prospective cohort of US adults. American Journal of Epidemiology. 172(4) p.419-429
2) Roser, M. (2016) (Retrieved 08/11/2016) Life expectancy;
3) World Health Organization (Retrieved 23/10/2016) The top 10 causes of death;
4) Booth, F.W., Roberts, C.K., Laye, M.J (2012) Lack of Exercise is a Major Cause of Chronic Disease. Compr Pysiol. 2 p. 1143-1211
5) Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (Retrieved 11/11/2016) Chapter 2: Physical Activity Has Many Health Benefits;
6) Katzmarzyk, P.T., Church, T.S., Craig, C.L, Bouchard, C. (2009) Sitting time and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 41(5) p.998-1005
7) Katzmarzyk, P.T., Church, T.S., Craig, C.L, Bouchard, C. (2009) Sitting time and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 41(5) p.998-1005
8) Owen, N., Healy, G. N., Matthres, C.E. & Dunstan, D.W. (2012) Too Much Sitting: The Population-Health Science of Sedentary Behavior. Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 38(3) p. 105–113

About James
James Hewitt is Sports Scientist and Performance Coach with HINTSA Performance based in Geneva, Switzerland. In a previous life he was an Elite racer but now focusses on avoiding caffeine overdose and helping other people achieve their goals. You can contact James through twitter @jamesphewitt and find out more at his website


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