Commuting via bike may be worse for health than previously thought, CSU professor finds

Katy Mueller

Colorado State University researchers have just released information that could disappoint those who commute via bike. What bikers gain in exercise, they may be losing in health, according to a study published by CSU air quality researchers.

The Bicycle Master Plan intends to make it easier and safer for those that want to bike for transportation, but are hesitant. (Photo credit: Sady Swanson)
The Bicycle Master Plan intends to make it easier and safer for those that want to bike for transportation, but are hesitant. (Photo credit: Sady Swanson)

Researchers found that bikers breathe in mainly black carbon while riding on roads populated by cars, and that finding less busy alternate routes to ride on could reduce their exposure to these pollutants by up to 30 percent. However, the lead author of this study, Dr. Nick Good of the Department of Environmental and Radiological Health Sciences, warned that the extra time riding on an alternate route could counteract this goal by spending extended time riding in the lower levels of pollutants. 

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“By taking these other routes, we’ve found it is still very hard to limit your exposure because you’re taking another longer route and you end up just being exposed longer even if the levels are a little bit lower,” Good said. “For a student, it’s about trying to find the direct route that’s not going to take you the long way ’round, but kind of (avoiding) those major roads where the pollution level is the highest.”

Even with taking alternate routes, Good said there is really no safe level of exposure to these chemicals. There is also data that shows cyclists inhale three times more pollution than the average person while riding, due to their harder breathing. When asked why Good found this study important, he said it is because air pollution is something that many people are still not very educated on.

“When you look at reasons why people are getting ill and dying prematurely in the U.S, air pollution is up there in the top 10 reasons,” Good said. “And of all those reasons, air pollution is one of those things you don’t have much control over yourself unless you really know what’s going on.”

Because of the limited control that people have over air pollution, Good finds that it is one of the more difficult areas that people can change in order to stay healthy.

“A lot of the top 10 reasons of illness tend to be dietary or about physical activity, so things you can do something about yourself,” Good said. “You can have a good diet, you can exercise, but air pollution, if you don’t know what’s there, it’s really hard to do something about yourself.”

Good and his team plan to use the second phase of this study to find links between air pollution and cardiovascular health, as well as other acute health problems.

Collegian Reporter Katy Mueller can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @Katymueller13.