The health benefits of walking and cycling outweigh the negative effects of poor air quality, even in cities like London with high levels of air pollution, according to a new study.
Researchers from Cambridge University calculated that ‘air pollution risks will not negate the health benefits of active travel in the vast majority of urban areas worldwide’.
They said the new evidence strengthens the case for supporting cycling even in polluted cities, which can in turn can help reduce vehicle emissions.
Senior author James Woodcock said: ‘Whilst this research demonstrates the benefits of physical activity in spite of air quality, it is not an argument for inaction in combatting pollution. It provides further support for investment in infrastructure to get people out of their cars and onto their feet or their bikes – which can itself reduce pollution levels at the same time as supporting physical activity.’
Although active travel such as walking and cycling is a way for people to increase their physical activity, concern has been raised about the risk from air pollution in urban environments.
A recent report suggested that air pollution, much of which comes from transport, contributes to around 40,000 early deaths in the UK every year.
Previous studies conducted in developed countries found that the health benefits of active travel are greater than the risks, but these were undertaken in areas of relatively low pollution, and their applicability to more polluted cities, particularly in emerging economies, has been unclear.
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