On Your Bike! Top 6 Benefits of Cycling

Cycling brings with it an array of benefits and although the cost of a bike can vary from the very basic budget bikes, (around £80-£120) to more specialist bikes (around the £400-£1,000 mark and upwards), cycling, even with the most basic bike still brings wonderful health benefits. Now that summer’s here and the lockdown is on its way to easing up, let’s get on our bikes a little more, mobilize yourself with: On Your Bike! Top 6 Benefits of Cycling.

Throughout the years, I have had several bikes, including, as a child, several Bicycle Motocross (BMX) bikes and used to ride everywhere my parents permitted! At 9 or 10 years of age, this was usually at BMX tracks and local parks and I even learned several tricks with minimal injury.

I also acquired my first mountain bike and by 16 I had a hybrid bike (one that has both the components of mountain bikes and more specialist road bikes; essentially an all-encompassing, multi-use bike) on which I used to travel longer distances of 10+ miles. This provoked me to eventually acquire a road bike as I was now cycling on the road most of the time.

1. Cycling Tones Muscle

Enjoy squats, but find it repetitive? Well the gluteus maximus, semimembranosus (hamstring) and the vastus medialis (thigh, quadriceps) among other muscles get a decent workout when cycling. The power phase for squats is said to be similar to the power phase for cycling. To complete, both activities (conventional squats and cycling) require knee and hip extension.

2. Stimulates & Tones Your Calf Muscles

The action of raising your heel emphasizes the gastrocnemius and soleus (main calf) muscles, whether you are seated, or standing while riding your bike. While cycling up a hill the aforementioned muscles are further stimulated and strengthened.  If you stand while cycling up a hill your hamstrings will get intensely worked and if you are seated while cycling, your quadriceps will get worked.

3. Helps Reduce Risk of Heart Disease & Cancer

Since cycling increases your heart action, enhancing blood flow and circulation around the body while encouraging the maintenance of a healthy weight, cycling has been selected by the NHS (National Health Service) as being a recommended form of exercise for mitigating one’s risk of developing heart disease and cancer.

NHS research also suggests that people who cycle have a 41% reduced risk of all mortalities compared with non-cyclists. In 2019, a study carried out by the University of Glasgow looked at around 260,000 people over a 5-year period. The research concluded that cycling to work can half the risk of the emergence of heart disease and cancer.

4. Lose Weight

Cycling is said to burn calories at a rate of 400 to 800 an hour, depending on variables such as intensity and the riders’ weight. If cycling is something you enjoy, you will certainly shed pounds (or weight) if that is your objective. Be sure to eat a healthy diet and consider a more holistic, self-care lifestyle that helps both mind and body.

Getting Fitter

The first thing that may come to mind when talking about weight loss is often a slimmer figure. While it’s great to shed some weight and get a leaner body, another way to see that you’re getting fitter is by checking the progress of your cycling performance. It may take some time to notice your weight loss based purely on your physical appearance. But as you shed a few pounds, your cycling performance you’ll notice, will also improve and you’ll be faster since there’s less weight to propel. You may also notice along your weight-loss journey that you can cycle longer and farther as your body gets lighter. Tracking your cycling progress not only helps you see how much you’ve improved and how much fitter you’re getting, it can also motivate you to get stronger, faster, and get better at cycling.

5. Good for Diabetics too

A lack of physical exercise has been associated as being a key contributor to type 2 diabetes. The good news is mass scale research in Finland has discovered that people who cycled for 30 minutes every day curtailed their risk of developing diabetes by 40%.

6. Improves Your Mental Well-Being

Cycling doesn’t have to be a tedious task, not in the least! In fact, cycling just 30 minutes per day can improve one’s mood. According to a study ‘Physical Activity and Depression: Evidence from the Alameda County Study (published in the American Journal of Epidemiology), people who regularly engage in exercise have a lesser chance of becoming depressed. We routinely hear about the importance of grey matter, but seldom hear about white matter. Located beneath the brain’s surface, white matter has been associated with bridging different regions of the brain.

A disconnect with the brain’s passage carrier can result in reduced cognitive brain functioning. A 2013 paper ‘A clinical study of the efficacy of a single session of individual exercise for depressive patients, assessed by the change in saliva free cortisol level’ looked at people suffering from depression who were being treated with antidepressants. After just 15 minutes (not even 30 minutes), of static pedalling on an exercise bike, the participants saw their levels of cortisol (the hormone responsible for stress) decrease.

Note: There are some excellent places to ride your bike, relatively safe environments such as Richmond Park and Victoria Park (Hackney) in London and Sutton Park (Sutton Coldfield and Winterbourne Botanic Garden (Edgbaston) in Birmingham. Of course you can always use a stationary exercise bike for similar cardio effects on the body. If you do cycle outdoors, please wear a helmet and exercise caution whenever cycling on the road. Let us know where you like to cycle in the comments below, join in the conversation on FacebookTwitter & Instagram

David Myles

David Myles is an educational researcher as well as a health and fitness advocate. A former vegan, he encourages a diet that is at least 70% plant-based. David regularly engages in exercise routines, preferring to use his own in-house gym. Weather permitting, David enjoys outdoor exercise and is particularly fond of athletics (100 and 200 meter running). Health psychology and how food can enhance cognitive brain function and performance is also high on the list of his keen interests.

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