Can Air Pollution Negate the Health Benefits of Cycling and Walking?


  • The long-term health benefits of physical activity through active travel generally outweigh the health risks of air pollution.


  • At the global average for air pollution from particulate matter (i.e., PM2.5 concentration 22 μg/m3), the benefits of physical activity outweigh air pollution exposure even at extreme levels of active travel.
  • Air pollution would have to reach PM2.5 concentration 95 μg/m3, a level only present in 1% of cities worldwide, in order for half an hour of cycling to have greater health risks from air pollution than benefits from physical activity.


  • This study used health impact modeling to estimate the influence of physical activity from active transportation and air pollution exposures on all-cause mortality. PM2.5 was selected as the indicator of air pollution exposure because it is commonly used in health impact modeling and has a significant health burden.
  • This study estimated the “tipping point,” or point after which an increase in active travel would no longer result in health benefits, and “break-even point,” or the point at which risk from air pollution outweighs the benefits of active transportation.

Tainio, M., de Nazelle, A. J., Götschi, T., Kahlmeier, S., Rojas-Rueda, D., Nieuwenhuijse, M. J.,de Sá, T. H., et al. (2016). Can air pollution negate the health benefits of cycling and walking?. Preventive Medicine.

filed under