Cycling for health and fitness
Cycling is a low impact aerobic exercise that offers a wealth of benefits. It also varies in intensity, so it’s suitable for all levels. You can cycle as a mode of transportation, for casual activity, or as an intense, competitive endeavor.
Cycling is mainly an aerobic activity, which means that your heart, blood vessels and lungs all get a workout. You will breathe deeper, perspire and experience increased body temperature, which will improve your overall fitness level.
The health benefits of regular cycling include:
- increased cardiovascular fitness
- increased muscle strength and flexibility
- improved joint mobility
- decreased stress levels
- improved posture and coordination
- strengthened bones
- decreased body fat levels
- prevention or management of disease
- reduced anxiety and depression.
Cycling and specific health issues:
Cycling can improve both physical and mental health, and can reduce the chances of experiencing many health problems.
Obesity and weight control
Cycling is a good way to control or reduce weight, as it raises your metabolic rate, builds muscle and burns body fat. If you’re trying to lose weight, cycling must be combined with a healthy eating plan. Cycling is a comfortable form of exercise and you can change the time and intensity – it can be built up slowly and varied to suit you.
Research suggests you should be burning at least 8,400 kilojoules (about 2,000 calories) a week through exercise. Steady cycling burns about 1,200 kilojoules (about 300 calories) per hour.
If you cycle twice a day, the kilojoules burnt soon add up. British research shows that a half-hour bike ride every day will burn nearly five kilograms of fat over a year.
Cycling will help strengthen your legs
According to Dr. Kubiak, research has shown that indoor cycling helps build muscle in various parts of your lower body.
“Your hamstrings are being activated at about 17%, your quadriceps at 17% and the glutes are at 15 to 17%,” explains Dr. Kubiak.
Cycling helps with loosening your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and hips. This way, your lower body is becoming more flexible over time. Plus, your core and arm muscles get a good workout.
Cardiovascular disease and cycling
Cardiovascular diseases include stroke, high blood pressure and heart attack. Regular cycling stimulates and improves your heart, lungs and circulation, reducing your risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Cycling strengthens your heart muscles, lowers resting pulse and reduces blood fat levels. Research also shows that people who cycle to work have two to three times less exposure to pollution than car commuters, so their lung function is improved. A Danish study conducted over 14 years with 30,000 people aged 20 to 93 years found that regular cycling protected people from heart disease.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease in some people. Some experts suggest that physical activity such as cycling could be the primary therapy Trusted Source to prevent these conditions.
Cycling may also help reduce blood pressure over a period of time. The review above notes that after 3 months, blood pressure may reduce by 4.3%, and that after 6 months, it may reduce by 11.8%.
A 2017 study Trusted Source adds that cycling is an effective method to lower blood pressure in people with type 2 diabetes
Cancer and cycling
Cycling is a fantastic addition to your care plan if you have or are recovering from cancer. However, many cancer patients experience low energy and pain during treatment, so be sure to work with your care team, listen to your body, and exercise only if you’re up for it.
Cycling can also help keep you lean and fit, which may reduce your risk for certain types of cancer, including breast cancer
According to research from 2019, if you have breast cancer, staying active may help reduce side effects of cancer treatment, including fatigue, and improve your overall quality of life
Diabetes and cycling
The rate of type 2 diabetes is increasing and is a serious public health concern. Lack of physical activity is thought to be a major reason why people develop this condition. Large-scale research in Finland found that people who cycled for more than 30 minutes per day had a 40 per cent lower risk of developing diabetes.
Bone injuries, arthritis and cycling
Cycling improves strength, balance and coordination. It may also help to prevent falls and fractures. Riding a bike is an ideal form of exercise if you have osteoarthritis, because it is a low-impact exercise that places little stress on joints.
Cycling does not specifically help osteoporosis (bone-thinning disease) because it is not a weight-bearing exercise.
Mental illness and cycling
Mental health conditions such as depression, stress and anxiety can be reduced by regular bike riding. This is due to the effects of the exercise itself and because of the enjoyment that riding a bike can bring.
Cycling may lower cholesterol
The health-enhancing effects of cycling may help improve cholesterol levels, which can boost your cardiovascular health and lower your chances of stroke and heart attack.
According to one review of 300 studies, indoor cycling has a positive effect on total cholesterol. It may boost HDL (good) cholesterol levels while lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglyceride levels
Cycling is the most sustainable mode of urban transportation and causes virtually no environmental damage. Cycling also takes up little space and is economical for cyclists and public infrastructure. This makes it environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable.
Hand cycling and health
Hand cycles are similar to recumbent tricycles, but they are powered with hand instead of foot pedals. Velcro straps can be used to secure the hands to the pedals if necessary.
This style of tricycle allows amputees, people with spinal injuries and those recovering from certain conditions such as stroke to cycle as a form of exercise and recreation. Hand cyclists get cardiovascular and aerobic benefits similar to those of other cyclists.
Things to remember
- Cycling can help to protect you from serious diseases such as stroke, heart attack, some cancers, depression, diabetes, obesity and arthritis.
- Riding a bike is healthy, fun and a low-impact form of exercise for all ages.
- Cycling is easy to fit into your daily routine by riding to the shops, park, school or work.
Who shouldn’t cycle
If you have any injuries that cycling will affect, it’s best to stay off the bike until you fully recover.
Talk with your doctor if you have any conditions that cycling may affect. People who have concerns with balance, vision, or hearing may prefer a stationary or adaptive bicycle.
If you don’t want to cycle but want to give your body a similar cardio workout, opt for a rowing, stair-climbing, or elliptical machine. You can also run hills, swim, or walk.
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