Riding a bike is a great way to get heart-healthy aerobic exercise. NHS doctors may soon be prescribing cycling to overweight patients and bike repair vouchers will be made available to thousands of Brits.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a new scheme to tackle the UK's obesity epidemic. 67% of men and 60% of women are currently considered overweight or obese1. A person's chances of developing a heart or circulatory disease are increased when they are overweight. The new cycle scheme could lower the number of people being diagnosed with a heart problem, saving the NHS time and money while extending thousands of lives each year.
Under the new plans, GPs will be able to prescribe cycling to their patients and offer them bikes directly. 50,000 vouchers for bike repairs were made available for businesses, giving their employees a £50 repair voucher that can be used to cover servicing and repair costs. The scheme has proved extremely popular due to the increase in cycling during lockdown – all vouchers have been claimed but there are plans to make more available in future2.
This isn't the first time that cycling will be prescribed by doctors in the UK. Back in May 2019, a similar pilot scheme was launched in Cardiff. This gave a select number of GP surgery's the option to give bikes to their patients to lower their risk of developing heart disease3. The six-month study ended in November of last year but the results are yet to be published, perhaps due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Getting people active has always been an issue, not just in the UK but around the world. Even if a doctor tells a patient to get more exercise, some people are reluctant to follow their advice. Many people feel too busy to fit exercise into their daily routine while others simply can't afford a bike. By giving patients free access to a bike and letting them use it as often as they wish, the NHS hopes more people will start exercising or increase the amount of exercise they already do. If people in the UK increased their cycling and walking by 10%, the NHS could save an estimated £1bn over the next 20 years4. Getting healthy is in everyone's best interests.
Cycling on a public road can be a daunting and occasionally dangerous experience. Fortunately, there are traffic-free cycling routes across the UK, utilising canal paths, cycle lanes and shared footpaths. Even if you aren't prescribed a bike by your doctor, there are still ways to get involved. Many large businesses run 'Cycle to Work' schemes and can provide you with a free bike or give you a generous discount if purchasing one yourself.
Cities are gradually becoming more cycle-friendly. To allow for social distancing, some high streets and busy roads have had their footpaths widened, reducing parking spaces and keeping traffic low. In some areas of the country, traffic is still lower than normal – there's never been a better time to get on your bike!