Health Benefits of Regular Cycling

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Health Benefits of Regular Cycling

If you’re searching for an excuse to start cycling, you won’t have to look far. Some obvious ones include more time outside, simpler commutes, environmental factors, and the wonderful benefit of not having to look for parking. While the efficiency of biking is great, one of the best motivators to get on your bike is the myriad of health benefits that cycling provides.

It’s no secret that regular exercise can lead to positive health outcomes. As our fitness increases humans typically gain muscle and cardiovascular strength while losing fat and reducing the risk of certain diseases. Any form of movement is better than sitting on your couch, but some types of physical activity—such as cycling—have more health benefits than others.

Here are a few reasons you should consider hopping on your bike and setting off on some two-wheeled adventures.

Image Credit:  juanmamontero  /  Pixabay

Cardiovascular Benefits

Cycling  reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease , including stroke, high blood pressure and heart attacks. A Danish study that spanned 14 years and had 30,000 participants aged 20 to 93 years found that regular cycling protected people from heart disease.

When you bike, your heart rate increases, stimulating your heart, respiratory system and circulation. Regular cardiovascular exercise will help strengthen your heart muscles, in turn lowering your resting heart rate and reducing blood pressure.

Commuters who bike to work have a 46 per cent lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease. If they do develop cardiovascular disease, these riders have a 52 per cent lower risk of dying from the condition.

One study also found that high blood pressure, which is correlated with cardiovascular disease in some people, can be reduced by 4.3 per cent after three months of cycling, and 11.8 per cent after six months.

Cycling and Mental health

Most people have been advised at some point to: “go outside and get some fresh air,” when feeling stressed or down. While that may seem like too simple of a solution for a complicated problem, studies have found that spending time outdoors does, in fact, have  many mental health benefits .

When you exercise your body is flushed with endorphins—making you, the cyclist, feel good.

Studies have found you become  distracted from feelings of stress, depression, and anxiety. As you pedal along, you will likely begin experiencing positive feelings  associated with mastery and self-efficacy.

2018 study with more than one million participants found that individuals who exercised had

43.2 per cent fewer days of poor mental health than individuals who did not exercise. Participants who cycled as their main form of exercise had the second-highest level of good mental health days (team sports was first—go for a ride with a friend!).

Bikes make you Smarter

In addition to feeling better, cycling can also improve some areas of cognitive function. A  2019 study found that after just two months of riding three times a week participants showed increased accuracy on testing.

During a cycling activity , blood flow to the brain increases by 28 per cent and up to 70 per cent in specific areas. Even shortly after exercise ends some areas of the brain maintain 40 per cent higher blood flow.

Good habits

Starting your morning off with a bike ride will have positive repercussions for the rest of the day.

You are more inclined to make healthy choices after morning exercise and may find that, as the day progresses, you have more energy than you normally would.

Getting into the habit of cycling consistently will benefit your health even when you’re not actively biking. Active individuals burn more fat (even off the bike), have less difficulty focusing attention, are less stressed and have more overall energy throughout the day.

Reduced risk of Certain Diseases

Though it's sometimes hard to isolate why some people are burdened with illnesses while others are not, scientists can still correlate certain activities with a reduced risk of diagnosis.

Studies have found that long-term exercise may reduce the risk of some forms of dementia, including Alzheimer's. A number of  new studies have also begun exploring cycling as a way to  improve cognitive function in patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease.

For people with type 2 diabetes, cycling can be a very powerful tool. In  a study conducted in 10 European countries, cyclists with diabetes had a lower risk of mortality than non-cyclists with the condition.

Healthier Weight

Cycling burns calories, which promotes weight loss. Whether you’re biking to train for a race or commuting a few days a week, any time you head out for a ride you’re burning calories.

Combined with a balanced diet, cycling can help you get to or maintain a healthy weight for your body. Cross-sectional population-based  studies have found inverse relationships between the number of bike commuters and the average BMI of the area.

Biking also builds muscle, and those with a higher percentage of muscle burn more calories even when they aren’t moving.

Lower Cancer Risk

There is a large amount of evidence that cycling can lead to a reduced risk of cancer.  Research  on more than 260,000 participants found that cycling cut the risk of cancer in half.

One long-term study determined that men who exercised at a moderate level for at least 30 minutes a day were half as likely to develop cancer as those who didn’t.

Regular bike commuters were also found to have a  reduced risk of colon cancer , and the more they biked the more their risk was reduced. Another study determined that women who cycle frequently significantly reduce their risk of breast cancer.

Transit and Exercise

There are many reasons cycling is a great way to get around, but one of the bestselling points is the efficiency of getting a little workout in while going about your daily tasks.

You don’t need to get completely covered in sweat to benefit from a commute. Bike commuters’ profit from many of the same health benefits (to varying degrees) as those putting their bike kit on and going out for an after-work ride.

Bike commuters are also reducing carbon emissions, which, ultimately, will have a contribution to the health of everyone on the planet, not just their own.

Improved Immune System

Cycling (instead of taking public transit) greatly reduces your risk of exposure to germs that could get you sick.

Cycling can also benefit your immune system in other, more subtle ways. Cycling has major health benefits for the upper respiratory system, the area most affected by the common cold. It also improves the immune system by increasing the production of essential proteins and bolstering white blood cells.

Regular cycling can reduce instances of the common cold and,  according to one study , reduce sick days by about 40 per cent.

Strong Lungs

Physical activity, particularly in the form of cycling, will put your lungs to work. Cycling for about 170–250 minutes per week can greatly improve your lung health,  according to a 2011 study  from the  Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports .

It’s important for those with and without lung conditions to keep their lungs healthy through regular physical activity.  Many medical professionals will recommend cycling as a means of maintaining a healthy respiratory system.

Less Pollution Exposure

Although it sounds counter-intuitive, people who cycle to work actually may have two to three times  less exposure to pollution than car commuters .

While cyclists are constantly being passed by cars, an experiment in central London found that drivers who are directly behind other vehicles experience a constant stream of air pollution from the vehicles directly in front of them. As the polluted air moves through their ventilation system it is trapped in the car with the driver.

Balance

There’s a reason for the expression “just like riding a bike”. If you’re getting on a bike for the first time in a while you might feel a bit shaky, but soon enough you’ll rarely be thinking about your stability. Your vestibular system, the sensory system that provides the leading contribution to the sense of balance and spatial orientation will take over.

Although you might not consciously be thinking about it, any time you’re keeping yourself upright and stable on a bike you’re stimulating motor regions in the central nervous system and activating the cerebral cortex, which helps improve motor learning and balance.

You’re also improving your spatial awareness, as you handle your bike while turning a corner, decide where to begin braking and manoeuvre around whatever your adventure throws at you.

Core Stability

While you’re biking, though you might not even feel it, you’re also engaging your core and your back muscles while holding yourself upright on your bike. Core stability is great for balance, and strong abdominal and back muscles support your spine and increase everyday comfort.

Transferable Fitness

Cycling can make you a  better football player , weight lifter, runner or simply a better athlete in general.

It increases overall fitness and stamina, helps build your cardiovascular systems and works on your core and stability—all important features of many sports. The low risk of injury and ability to toggle intensity makes cycling a great cross-training tool for athletes looking to diversity their fitness.

Better Sleep

There’s nothing better than a good night’s sleep. Cycling can help you get the essential deep sleep that is required to feel fully rested in the morning.

During a 35-year sleep study, University of Georgia researchers analysed the health habits of more than 8,000 men and women between the ages of 20 and 85. As participants became less fit over time, they had more trouble getting an uninterrupted night of rest. Just a two per cent decline in fitness for men and a four per cent decline in fitness for women would lead to worse quality of sleep.

Cycling reduces stress, which in turn leads to better sleep and higher sleep quality. It also reduces sleep apnea risk.

Regular cycling helps regulate your circadian rhythm, which means you’re more likely to feel sleepy when you should feel sleepy, instead of lying in bed very awake after feeling exhausted all day.

Longevity

A King’s College London  study compared more than 2,400 identical twins to see how cycling changed their telomere length, an indicator of ageing.

Even after discounting other influences, such as body mass index (BMI) and smoking, the researchers found that those who did the equivalent of just three 45-minute rides a week were nine years ‘biologically younger.’

Low Impact

Cycling is a low-impact activity. Cycling doesn’t involve the full impact of your body weight hitting the ground—a lot of your weight is held up by the bike itself. Unlike running, you aren’t bearing your weight, which means the risk of injury is much lower. As long as your bike fits your properly, it is unlikely you will develop an injury from cycling.

Varying Intensity

Riding a bike is also a good way to get into any form of fitness. You’re completely in control of the speed and intensity. Unless you choose a route with extreme hills, you’ll be able to choose exactly how hard you want to push yourself, how long you want to bike for and what type of riding would feel best for your body.

Even the shortest bike rides are good for you: Opting to ride your bike to the store or just take a little spin around the block will benefit your health and leave you feeling energised and ready to take on the day.