Innovative cycling region Utrecht sees cycling as potential medicine

With the visit of three major cycling tours, the innovative bike path of the future in Rhenen and the largest bicycle parking in the world, Utrecht is the undisputed cycling region of the Netherlands. But did you know that there is also plenty of bicycle innovation going on in Utrecht, for example in healthcare? Ernest van den Bemd of the Utrecht Bike Community talks about current innovative healthcare cycling projects.

Utrecht is the place to be when it comes to cycling. The city of Utrecht has real ‘bicycle files’ that are famous worldwide. The region can be explored via more than 400 kilometers of beautifully sleek bike paths; within half an hour you’re cycling through the forests on the Utrechtse Heuvelrug. In the other direction you can be at the lakes of Loosdrecht in an hour.

Cycling is such an enjoyable means of transportation. It is also increasingly seen as a potential medicine. For example, UMC Utrecht is working on how cycling can be part of cancer treatment, and Utrecht is home to symposia on how doctors can prescribe “prescription cycling” to all kinds of groups: from people with lung covid to osteoarthritis patients.

Unique bicycle policy

So how is it that this region, of all regions, has become such a cycling Valhalla? That is a bit of luck, but mainly the result of policy and explicit ambition,” says Ernest van den Bemd of the Utrecht Bike Community. He says it is unique how both the municipality and the province of Utrecht have an explicit policy on cycling. , “You don’t see that anywhere else and it is clearly bearing fruit.”

In addition, he says, you find here on a few square kilometers just about all relevant cycling organizations in the Netherlands: the Fietsersbond, OV Fiets, knowledge platform CROW, the Dutch Cycling Embassy. ,,It is of course convenient that Utrecht is so central and that organizations want to establish themselves here as a result. But it also has a snowball effect: if one organization is located here, it makes sense for the others to come to Utrecht as well.”

Investing in prevention

In this cycling region pur sang, it is obvious to use the two-wheeler in multiple domains. Think of the social domain, environment and infrastructure and also the care domain. Especially in the latter category there are many opportunities, because cycling is cheap and accessible: after all, almost all Dutch people already own a bicycle – an average of 1.3 bicycles per person, according to Fietsersbond.

What is already happening concretely in terms of cycling innovations and healthcare in Utrecht? A great initiative is the annual oncomid symposium: a scientifically accredited symposium for employees of oncology hospitals in the central Netherlands. That symposium took place for the first time in 2023 at UMC Utrecht and was about how doctors can integrate cycling into cancer treatment. Or more specifically: in the period before treatment. Prehabilitation is what you call it. Ernest van den Bemd tells more about it:

,,People who are facing chemotherapy or other cancer treatment are asked to perform top sport. So it is good to be mentally and physically in shape, in order to have more impact with the treatment and recover faster.”

He continues: ,,How exactly that cycling has a role in treatment is different for each patient. But at the symposium, physicians talked about what specific cycling regimens would allow exercise to be helpful for a patient. That may not sound very revolutionary, but for physicians to talk specifically about cycling as prehabilitation in a healthcare setting, that is truly unique and special.”

Health gains on bicycles

So Utrecht sees the potential of cycling in a preventive health setting. So does the province of Utrecht, which, for example, contributes to the national program ‘Doortrappen’. The goal here is to achieve health gains for seniors by making cycling safe, enjoyable and comfortable.

In concrete terms, the preventive health benefits of cycling are reflected in the vitality program of health insurer a.s.r., headquartered in the city of Utrecht. Ernest van den Bemd was involved in the expert panel that advised the vitality program. ,,There we achieved a great result: if you cycle enough kilometers and keep track of that in the a.s.r. app, you are rewarded with gift certificates. The more kilometers, the more points and thus gift credit. That commitment to prevention is quite innovative and a trend breaker for health insurers.”

Effective medicine

Ernest van den Bemd is positive about what will be realized in the future in the field of cycling & health. ,,Cycling can be potentially important in the treatment process for so many conditions: we think of diseases such as lung covid or burnout, but also the prevention of osteoarthritis or the inhibition of Parkinson’s disease. This has long been a blind spot, but more and more Utrecht companies and organizations are recognizing that cycling can be an accessible, inexpensive and effective medicine.”

 

Ernest Van den Bemd

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Innovative cycling region Utrecht sees cycling as potential medicine

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