Boosting health through cycling: West Yorkshire leads the way with patient referral scheme

People across West Yorkshire are reaping the benefits of cycling thanks to a pioneering referral scheme which sees patients being prescribed the activity by health care professionals.

The Cycle 4 Health scheme, delivered in partnership with Cycling UK, is part of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s £60 million CityConnect programme to encourage more people to cycle and walk.

Cycle 4 Health, which is now in its second year of delivery, is aimed at tackling health inequalities by providing people with long-term conditions with the skills to start and continue cycling over 12 weeks of training.

During the first full year of delivery 240 participants took part in Cycle 4 Health, following referrals from GP surgeries, hospitals, Clinical Commissioning Groups and mental health charities.

Figures from the first year show that at the start of the programme nearly all of the participants reported they did not cycle at all.

Six weeks after the course had ended, however, 68% had at least maintained or increased their level of cycling, 70% reported their fitness had increased and each participant was cycling on average more than two hours each week.

There were also considerable improvements in mental wellbeing, with participants reporting a 30% increase in confidence, a 33% increase in feeling close to others and a 26% increase in feeling relaxed.

Cllr Kim Groves, Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s Transport Committee, said: “I’m delighted we’re leading the way with this scheme, which demonstrates the scale of our ambition in encouraging more people to travel in ways that benefit their health, as well as the economy and the environment.

“Through its CityConnect programme, the Combined Authority is working alongside local councils and other partners to build high quality routes, such as the award-winning Bradford Leeds Cycle Superhighway – the longest continuous route of its kind in the UK.

“This new infrastructure, alongside improvements to existing routes and our work with schools, businesses and community groups, is part of our holistic approach to increasing people’s access to cycling and walking across our region.”

Laura Hales, Head of Development at Cycling UK, said: “Cycle 4 Health really shows the impact that cycling can have on a person’s confidence, self-esteem and in turn, their mental and physical health. Building up cycling skills and fitness gradually in an inclusive environment means that people get a positive experience of cycling, often for the first time. The evidence speaks for itself but Cycle 4 Health is also great fun. Along with CityConnect, Cycling UK is now keen to roll out this proven approach more widely so that more people can reap the huge benefits of cycling.”

Meet Jacqueline Sharp, Assistant Practitioner Occupational Therapy at Fieldhead Mental Health Hospital, Wakefield, where patients have been accessing free cycle training through Cycle 4 Health to aid their recovery.


There is a well-established body of research highlighting the physical benefits of cycling.

Last year, a major study by the University of Glasgow published in the British Medical Journal found people who regularly travelled by bike nearly halved their risk of developing cancer and heart disease.

Physical activity has also been shown to increase positive mood and self-esteem, as well as reducing anxiety and stress, according to the Mental Health Foundation.

Information about Cycle 4 Health courses can be obtained from health care professionals.

CityConnect also provides free adult cycle training for all abilities and maintenance courses at venues across West Yorkshire.

Book a place on one of our courses.