Commuters who cycle to work less likely to be prescribed antidepressants

People who cycle to work are less likely to be given medication for mental health, data from the University of Edinburgh revealed.

Commuters who cycle to work are less likely to be prescribed antidepressants, new research shows.

Analysis of almost 380,000 people living in Scotland suggests commuting by bike reduces the risk of mental ill health.

Commuting by bike led to greater reductions in mental health prescriptions in women than in men, according to research from the University of Edinburgh – although men were more likely to cycle.

Researchers combined data for 378,253 people aged 16-74 from the 2011 Scottish census with NHS prescription records for the following five years.

The people surveyed lived and worked in Edinburgh or Glasgow, stayed within around one mile of a cycle path and did not have any prescriptions for mental ill health at the start of the study.

Researchers found a 15% reduction in prescriptions for depression or anxiety amongst cycle commuters in the five years after 2011 compared with non-cyclists.

Most previous studies have involved small numbers of participants and self-reported measures of mental health.

Only around 2% of commuters in Glasgow cycled to work, compared to just under 5% in Edinburgh, data showed.

Dr Laurie Berrie, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, said: “Our study used the fact that otherwise similar people are more likely to cycle to work if they live close to a cycle path.

“Using this property, it was possible to mimic a randomised controlled trial and compare the mental health of those who cycled to work to those using other modes of transport but who were otherwise comparable.”

The study, published in The International Journal of Epidemiology, was funded by the Economic and Social Science Research Council (ESRC) through Administrative Data Research (ADR) Scotland.

Professor Chris Dibben, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences – who led the study, said: “Our finding that this economical and sustainable method of travelling to work also enhances mental health suggests that a policy of investing in cycle paths and encouraging active commuting is likely to have wide-ranging benefits.

“Not only could this improve people’s mental health, it could also help reduce carbon emissions, road congestion and air pollution.”

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