Whether you’re wearing lycra to cycle up a mountain or just riding your bike to the shops, cycling comes with a number of health benefits. Although it’s a relatively low-impact sport, spending time on your bike can improve physical strength, help you lose weight (should you need or want to) and even make you feel happier generally.
We spoke to the experts to find out the 12 health benefits riding your bike will bring you:
1. Cycling strengthens muscles
Cycling is one of the best forms of exercise around, according to physiotherapist Bianca Broadbent from Spire Parkway. “Being naturally low impact, cycling enables you to strengthen your leg muscles without the pressure of attending the gym or investing in home equipment.”
In the process, you can become just as toned and strong as you would from the most gruelling of exercise classes or by going for a run. However, unlike aerobic activities such as running, cycling is much kinder to your joints.
2. Cycling improves cardiovascular health
Riding a bike comes with a host of heart health benefits. “Cycling optimises the performance of the cardiovascular system by strengthening the heart, reducing the resting pulse and boosting circulation throughout the body,” says Broadbent.
Experts at the British Heart Foundation agree. “Being physically active helps to reduce your risk of heart and circulatory diseases,” says Barbara Kobson, senior cardiac nurse at the BHF. “Cycling is a great way to improve your cardiovascular fitness as it raises your heart rate and helps burn calories, which could contribute to weight loss. The resistance element of cycling also helps to build and tone muscle, improving your overall fitness.”
3. Riding a bike lifts your mood
All types of exercise can boost your mental wellbeing by releasing the mood-boosting endorphins.
However ‘green exercise’, which is exercising in nature (such as cycling outdoors), is particularly good for your mental health. In fact, one study shows that cycling not only boosts your mood, but it can also lead to an improvement in self-esteem.
4. Cycling reduces stress, depression and anxiety
Meanwhile, moderately intense exercise such as cycling has been shown to reduce stress levels, as well as symptoms of depression and anxiety. “It does this by reducing the levels of the body’s stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol,” explains Leanne Simoncelli, clinical specialist physiotherapist at the Institute of Sport, Exercise & Health (ISEH),
“The charity Mind suggested that the social side of cycling may be another reason it is so beneficial for mental health. Cyclists often meet up with others to cycle in a group or may join a cycling club,” adds Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy. “The positive effects of cycling on mental health disorders are so impressive, GPs have started to prescribe cycling as part of a pilot scheme.”
5. Cycling is a natural pain killer
Next time you reach for the paracetamol, consider going for a quick bike ride instead. “Moderate to high-intensity exercise releases of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and norepinephrine that help alleviate both physical and mental pain,” says Simoncelli, “Endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers.”
6. Riding a bike can make you live longer
Studies show that cycling can literally add years to your life. “Compared to non-cyclists, those who undertake a moderate-intensity cycle, up to 60 minutes per day, have a 20 per cent reduction in the risk of all-cause mortality, rising to a 30 per cent reduction for those who cycle 100 minutes per day,” says Dr Lee.
“One statistical calculation concluded that gained life expectancy from regular cycling was between 3-14 months,” she adds.
7. Cycling boosts your immune system
Most people know that eating your greens can help ward off illness, but it turns out that cycling can, too.
“Moderate cycling (up to 60 minutes per day) is shown to enhance immune function and metabolic activity,” says Simoncelli. “This is more importantly supported by the NICE guidelines who recommend at least 30 minutes of physical activity, at least five days a week, to enhance overall health.”
8. Cycling can help you lose weight
Trying to lose weight? Get on your bike, as cycling burns around 300 calories in an hour. “If you cycle harder, calorie consumption increases further,” says Dr Lee. “For example, a person weighing 155 pounds can burn 298 calories in a 30-minute cycle ride, if they can keep up the pace to 12-13.9 miles per hour.”
“Interesting data has been obtained from the Nurses Health Study,” she adds. “18,414 nurses aged 25-42, recruited to the study between 1989 and 2005, were followed up in 2010. Those who reported taking up or continuing to cycle, even 5-10 minutes per day, had gained less weight than those who did not.”
9. Riding a bike works your core
Not a fan of planking but keen to get fit? Cycling isn’t just about leg strength – it also works your core muscles, providing a great workout for your back and even your abdominal muscles, and a strong core comes with a host of health benefits.
10. Bicycles are better for the environment
Riding a bike is not only good for your physical well-being, but going car-free also benefits the environment, too. So what’s that got to do with the health benefits for us? Well, quite a lot.
“Choosing to cycle on our journeys helps create less air pollution, which in turn is better for heart and lungs,” explains Kobson.
11. Cycling can reduce cancer risk
Research has found that regular cycling can lead to a reduction of your overall cancer risk, according to Simoncelli. One study, which looked at adult males, found that 60 minutes of cycling per week caused a 20 per cent reduction of risk of cancer, while 90- 100 minutes of cycling per week led to a 40 – 45 per cent reduction of risk of cancer.
12. Cycling is great for beginners
You’re never too old (or young) to get fit, and cycling is the perfect place to start. Begin your journey on a stationary bike if you’re new or recovering from an injury, and gradually increase the intensity until you’re ready to explore the great outdoors. Once you learn how to ride a bike you never forget.