Research from Denmark suggests a faster paced workout has greater long-term health benefits than plodding along.
Danish researchers who have monitored the health of 5,000 people in the Copenhagen City Heart Study found those who cycled fast for between half an hour and an hour a day were likely to live longest.
Relative to slow cyclists, those who cycled more quickly had a 56 per cent lower risk of dying overall during the study period, which included a 74 per cent lower risk of dying from coronary heart disease.
The study was based on people without health problems such as high blood pressure or diabetes, aged 20 to 90.
Men in the study, who said they rode fast, could expect to live up to 5.3 years longer than those who said they rode slowly. The comparative figure for women was 3.9 years.
Men who believed they rode at an average speed could expect another 2.9 years of life, and such women 2.2 years.
Dr Peter Schnohr, from Bispebjerg University Hospital, told the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in Paris: “It is the intensity, not the duration, of cycling that is of the greatest importance in relation to all forms of mortality, or longevity, and it is even more pronounced for coronary heart disease.”
Dr Schnohr argued that governments should advise people to take activity in more vigorous bursts as well as taking regular moderate exercise.
However, the research met with caution from Prof Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation.
He warned that it could be dangerous for inactive people to simply get up and start doing hard exercise. “I would hate the message to get out in the UK that people who are not used to cycling should start doing it short and sharp,” he said.
He said it was interesting in relation to people who already cycled but most people in Britain were not that active.
“Current guidelines say that you’ve got to do sufficient exercise to get your heart rate up and get slightly breathless,” he added.