Can air pollution negate the health benefits of cycling and walking?

Marko Tainio, Audrey J de Nazelle, Thomas Götschi, Sonja Kahlmeier, David Rojas-Rueda, Mark J Nieuwenhuijsen, Thiago Hérick de Sá, Paul Kelly, James Woodcock

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: Active travel (cycling, walking) is beneficial for health due to increased physical activity (PA). However, active travel may increase the intake of air pollution, leading to negative health consequences. We examined the risk-benefit balance between active travel related PA and exposure to air pollution across a range of air pollution and PA scenarios. Methods: The health effects of active travel and air pollution were estimated through changes in all-cause mortality for different levels of active travel and air pollution. Air pollution exposure was estimated through changes in background concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), ranging from 5 to 200 ?g/m3. For active travel exposure, we estimated cycling and walking from 0 up to 16 hours per day, respectively. These refer to long-term average levels of active travel and PM2.5 exposure. Results: For the global average urban background PM2.5 concentration (22 ?g/m3) benefits of PA by far outweigh risks from air pollution even under the most extreme levels of active travel. In areas with PM2.5 concentrations of 100 ?g/m3, harms would exceed benefits after 1h 30 min of cycling per day or more than 10 h of walking per day. If cycling would replace driving, benefits would always exceeded risks in all background air pollution levels. The results were sensitive to dose-response function (DRF) assumptions for PM2.5 and PA. Conclusions: PA benefits of active travel outweighed the harm caused by air pollution in all but the most extreme air pollution concentrations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-236
JournalPreventive Medicine
Early online date5 May 2016
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016


  • physical activity
  • air pollution
  • bicycling
  • walking
  • mortality
  • Health Impact Assessment
  • Risk-Benefit Assessment


Dive into the research topics of 'Can air pollution negate the health benefits of cycling and walking?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this