The health benefits of cycling

Cycle yourself to a fitter, healthier lifestyle

The health benefits of cycling are manifold, both physiologically and psychologically. It’s enjoyable, remarkably accessible, has broad appeal and is an excellent way of improving your general fitness. Cycling is also one of the easiest ways to incorporate exercise into your daily routine, as it’s an efficient mode of transport too. There’s no doubt that these are just a few of the reasons why over 3 million people in the UK alone regularly ride their bikes. So, let’s have a closer look at why cycling is so good for you.

Written by Matt Stephens

Matt is a former British Road Race champion who represented GB in the Olympics, World Championships and Commonwealth Games. He is now a regular commentator for EuroSport and a presenter on Global Cycling Network

 

Cycling is fun

First off, it’s simply so much fun. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how fit you are or where you ride your bike, cycling gives you a sense of freedom like no other activity. This sense of enjoyment is heightened even more when it’s shared with other people. We’re a very sociable species so what better way to appreciate time with family and friends than out on the bike, in the fresh air, savouring the beautiful countryside. Keeping fit can be fun too y’know…

Cycling optimises fat burning

Cycling is one of the best forms of exercise to lose weight and as you become fitter the benefits are greater. Fat burning takes place when your heart rate is at around 65-75% of your maximum and can be worked out roughly as; the maximum being 220 minus your age for men or 225 minus your age for women. Now you don’t necessarily need a heart rate monitor as you will of course burn fat without one, but the advantages include the ability to be specific and target the zone in which to ride and therefore optimise your fat burn. Physiologists have found that fat continues to be burnt following riding; tests have shown that after cycling for 30 minutes the body continues to burn calories at a higher rate for a few hours after stopping.  Plus, if you increase your effort and do a few short intervals (shorter, hard efforts of around a minute or so) within your ride you’ll burn even more calories than riding for the same time but at a lower intensity. So, an ideal exercise to shed those extra pounds whilst having fun out in the fresh air.

Young family cycling

Cycling improves Your Sleep

Cycling can help improve the quality of your sleep, which in turn can have knock-on health benefits. A study at Stanford University Of Medicine in the USA carried out on insomnia sufferers resulted in vastly improved sleep after riding for between 20-30 minutes every other day. Sleep time increased by an hour and the time taken to fall asleep cut by half. So, if you do struggle to sleep at times, cycling could be the answer for you.

Cycling is a great way to work out the cardiovascular system

The cardiovascular system is your heart and lungs and the fitter you become, the more efficiently they work.  This means improved blood flow and a subsequent increase in the speed oxygen is pumped through your system. The more efficient this process, the higher your level of fitness. Over time, if you gradually increase the amount and intensity of your riding, your cardiovascular system will improve in efficiency and you’ll get fitter. The British Heart Foundation state that people cycling 20 miles per week reduce the risk of heart disease to under half of those who do not exercise. The most practically effective way of training your cardiovascular system on the bike is to ride around two and a half hours a week, perhaps riding shorter distances to work for a few days a week with a longer ride at the weekend. You’ll soon see and feel the benefits plus you’ll be saving money by riding to work. In other words it’s a win, win scenario!

Cycling is a non-load-bearing so reduces risk of injury

Yet another advantage of cycling is that it is a non-load bearing, low impact form of exercise. The body’s weight is supported by the bike, rather than your joints which means far less stress is placed upon them. It’s far easier on your joints than running or other high-impact aerobic activities and is ideal for joint problems, brittle bones or those returning to training following injury. Riding will also help tone your quads, calves and glute muscles as well as strengthening your tendons, without the risk of load bearing/impact injury.

Cycling is also an ideal way of gradually increasing your fitness levels without aggravating or hindering the healing process. Many non-cycling athletes (footballers or rugby players for example) use cycling as part of their active recovery process following injury

Cycling is a stress buster

Finally and in addition to all of the other benefits, if you really needed yet another reason to get out and ride, cycling can help improve your brain power and mood as well as combating the effects of stress. There has been a great deal of research on the subject showing that cycling isn’t just about making your heart, lungs and legs fitter, but also your grey matter too. Tests have shown that subjects scored higher on memory, reasoning and planning following a 30 ride on a static bike. Not only that but cycling can elevate your mood, increase stress resistance and relieve anxiety due to boosting the levels of feel-good endorphins such as serotonin and dopamine.

Do you really need any more reasons to get out and ride? Lose weight, get fitter and beat the blues. What’s not to like about all of that?!

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