The 20-year study involving 5,000 healthy people who cycled every day found men who cycled quickly lived over five years longer on average than those cycling the most slowly.
Dr Peter Schnohr, head researcher said: ‘This study suggests that a greater part of the daily physical activity in leisure time should be vigorous, based on the individual’s own perception of intensity.
The findings, presented at the European Society of Cardiology congress in Paris, took into account a range of factors such as the number of other sports activities undertaken by the cyclists, Body Mass Index, alcohol intake and blood pressure.
Although this study concentrated solely on cyclists, a recent study published in The Lancet showed as little as a quarter of an hour’s vigorous activity a day can increase lifespan by three years, while slowing the pace takes twice as long to achieve the same benefits.
There was a word of caution from Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director of the British Heart Foundation who said ‘If regular cyclists want to cycle faster that’s one thing, but I would be concerned about a general message that short and sharp is better than long and slow.
‘Intense exercise puts a huge load on the heart and this could be a problem for people with heart disease or who are unused to exercise.
‘The most important thing is to get the heart rate up and get slightly breathless. All the evidence shows that regular moderate exercise for half an hour a day protects the heart’ he added.