By Shira Feder / Insider.com
January 30, 2020
RyanJLane/Getty

This article originally appeared on Insider.com.

A common search on Google is: "Do cyclists live longer?"

Researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand attempted to answer the question with a study using 15 years of census data to examine the mortality rates of bikers versus non-bikers.

The study used the New Zealand Census-Mortality Study, a dataset that links people's self-reports of how they got to work as well as the country's records of cause of death.

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Of the 3.5 million people surveyed, only 3 percent of them cycled to work, while 5 percent walked.

But that minority fared the best: the cyclists saw a 13 percent reduction in early death rates compared to the people who drove to work. People who walked or took public transportation to work saw no change in their expected lifespan.

Experts say the study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, could be used by lawmakers to lobby for funds for bike lanes and more cycling-friendly infrastructure.

More and more research links cycling with longer lifespan, but it still remains uncommon in the U.S.

According to U.S. Census results, only 0.6 percent of American citizens bike to work, despite a growing body of research that shows biking is healthy for you. Those who do tend to be aged 16-24, living in cities, according to the most recent census results.

Ralph Buehler, an associate professor at Virginia Tech School of Public and International Affairs, who was not involved in the study, told Insider this study is part of a small but growing area of research that links commuting by bike with increased life expectancy.

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A similar study conducted in England, Scotland, and Wales, found that cycling was associated with increased mortality. Another British study found that cyclists were 15 percent less likely to die from any cause. A Danish study found that riding a bike regularly could lower your risk of heart attack by at least 11 percent.

"In Washington, D.C., where I live, there have been big increases in cycling over the past 20 years," says Buehler. "That happens in places where cities make the effort to build the infrastructure."

Many U.S. cities lack the infrastructure to support bikers.

The deterrent, Buehler says, it that many U.S. cities lack networks of dedicated bike lanes that countries like Germany and the Netherlands have.

America is designed for cars, with zoning laws that require car parking in most places while bike parking is often non-existent. Outside of cities where biking is more popular, the sheer size of America means trip distances will be longer and less bike-friendly.

Even so, Buehler says, "studies show the benefits of cycling can outweigh the risks."

"A big portion of our society is not willing to ride a bike and share a road with vehicles," he said. "If people don't perceive cycling as safe from the beginning to the end of their journey, they won't do it." So even if you have a dedicated bike lane in one part of the city, if that bike lane ends at a busy intersection, people likely won't ride it.

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There is also a gender imbalance. In countries like Denmark, where the cycling is safer, 50 percent of the cyclists will be women. In America, one of the most dangerous countries to cycle in, according to one of Buehler's studies, the cycling scene tends to skew extremely male, with male cyclists tripling the amount of female cyclists.

"Women have much greater risk perception than men," said Buehler. If the road looks dangerous, women won't ride.

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