A review of studies that looked at the health benefits of e-cycling, led by Jessica Bourne of Bristol University, has confirmed the health improvements associated with assisted cycling.
The systematic review aims to supplement current knowledge and provide guidance on public health initiatives to promote e-cycling to improve population health.
Ms Bourne explained to Pedelecs that the review screened over 4000 studies, identifying just 17 fitting the criteria for this overview of studies so far on the physical activity, cardiorespiratory, metabolic and psychological outcomes associated with e-cycling. The studies included in this review involved 300 participants.
Amid calls for more ‘active travel’ as a way of incorporating exercise into daily life, Ms Bourne and her team set out to consolidate the potential positive health outcomes if more people took up e-cycling; electric bikes are seen as a solution to reported barriers to cycle commuting. These were cited in the review as ‘hilly terrain, poor physical fitness, lack of time and distance to work’.
Ms Bourne told Pedelecs: “Eleven of the studies looked at the acute impact of one bout of e-cycling and compared this to other exercise modalities including conventional cycling, walking or e-cycling with the assistance turned off. The other 6 studies looked at the long-term impact of e-cycling on health outcomes, primarily physical fitness. Acute physiological outcomes consistently showed that e-cycling is performed at a moderate intensity or higher.”
Conventional cycling requires a “slightly higher intensity” of exercise according to studies, which peaks on climbs as would be expected.
However the team also noted that: “It is possible that the extra assistance that is provided during uphill riding is a major contributor to people’s decisions to ride an e-bike. Regarding health, the review found moderate evidence that e-cycling could lead to increases in physical fitness with interventions ranging in length from 4-weeks to 8-months. “
A Swiss study included in the review suggested that: “E-cycling, even while using a high assistance mode, provides physical activity of at least moderate intensity on a variety of terrain, including downhill. Furthermore, e-cycling can elicit vigorous activity during uphill riding and during rides with highly varied terrain.”
Ms Bourne notes that some still label e-cycling as ‘cheating’; however further research using ‘rigorous research designs’ would provide greater clarity on all the health benefits associated with e-cycling, including long-term health gains beyond physical fitness.
Ms Bourne sums up: “More longitudinal research is needed to examine the impact of e-cycling on health, with only one pilot randomized controlled trial meeting the criteria for inclusion in the current review. It is worth noting that e-cycling is quicker than conventional riding and therefore individuals will have to ride more frequently or for longer to obtain similar health benefits. However, the lower exertion ratings associated with e-cycling, in comparison to conventional cycling, may encourage longer and more frequent rides. This review suggests that e-cycling has the potential to positively impact health and is an area requiring further investigation.”
The review paper concludes that the studies provide evidence that e-cycling elicits activity at an intensity high enough to promote some positive health outcomes and can lead to increases in cardiorespiratory fitness: “E-cycling can contribute to meeting physical activity recommendations and increasing physical fitness. ”