It doesn’t seem to make much sense, telling bicyclists not to pedal as quickly because it’s not healthy for them. Peddling more quickly, you might think, would lead to better conditioning – right?
Perhaps, but according to new research, that isn’t the point, per se. Thank air pollution for the confusing dichotomy.
As reported by the UK’s Daily Mail, scientists say whizzing through city streets in many parts of the world means that cyclists – or even people who are walking quickly – breathe deeper and, as such, draw more toxic air into their lungs.
What makes the new findings confusing – even contradictory – is that the same research finds that people who cycle or walk quickly through polluted air are actually exposed to less overall smog.
So, that head-scratching data dump has led researchers to dig a little deeper, in order to clarify exactly what the right speed is to avoid excessive intake of pollutants into your lungs, the Daily Mail reported.
Optimal travel speeds found
Researchers have settled on cyclists riding between 7.5 mph and 12 mph on city roads, and pedestrians should walk between 1.2 mph and 3.7 mph. Of course, average speeds will also depend on other factors, including age, overall fitness, terrain and so forth. Either way, researchers say older people should aim to walk a bit faster, on average.
Dr. Alex Bigazzi, lead researcher from the University of British Columbia, said that “the faster you move, the harder you breathe and the more pollution you could potentially inhale,” the paper reported.
However, walking faster also means you “are exposed to traffic for a shorter period of time,” he added. “This analysis shows where the sweet spot is.”
His research team calculated the ideal travel speeds using findings gathered from more than 10,000 people. The speed estimates, which are referred to as minimum-dose speeds, or MDS, are average speeds based on roads without hills or inclines.
Researchers discovered that young female riders should stick to speeds of about 7.8 mph, while young males under 20 should keep to about 8.3 mph. Older cyclists of both sexes, however, should try to ride a bit faster – 9.3 mph – so that they cut down their exposure time and breathe in less pollution.
For young walkers under 20, the ideal strolling speed is about 1.9 mph, while older pedestrians should pick up their pace and travel about 2.5 mph. “If you move at much faster speeds,” Bigazzi noted, “your inhalation of air pollution is significantly higher.”
He added that the MDS numbers actually aligned fairly closely with how fast most people ride and walk already, which he called “good news.”
Global South industrializing and depending more on fossil fuels
Researchers are increasingly finding that higher concentrations of air pollution dramatically increase the risk of developing lung-borne diseases like asthma, and of course, lung cancer. But it can also lead to other conditions, like stroke. The Daily Mail reported that air pollution is blamed for about 3 million deaths worldwide every year.
The paper said that the study, published in the International Journal of Sustainable Transportation, comes as research published in September found that 90 percent of the UK’s population is living in areas where air pollution exceeds safe limits.
More bad news: UNICEF recently released a report as well containing data that shows air pollution is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths in children under the age of 5 each year.
Most of these deaths are of children living in developing regions of the world – mostly Africa and Asia. As globalization leads to industrialization in the Global South, standards of living are rising. But at the same time, newly industrialized economies are being powered by fossil fuels, which are having a deadly effect on populations in those nations.