Jump on a bike, and you’ll healthy-up your heart, strengthen your muscles, sharpen your brain and get a mood boost too!
If you’ve been thinking about unearthing that bicycle tucked in the back of your garage gathering cobwebs, or if you’ve been eying your neighbors with envy as they breezily cycle past you when you’re out walking, then here’s some news for you: Cycling — whether you do it in the great outdoors or on a stationary bike in your basement — has a whole lot of benefits for your body and mind.
We talked with Namrita Brooke, PhD, RDN, a USA Cycling Level 2 coach with degrees in applied exercise physiology and sports nutrition, to find out all the ways it can build strength, improve your balance and more.
1. Cycling may help you lose weight
Cycling habitually, especially at a high intensity, can help lower your body fat levels, which promotes healthy weight management (1).
Additional studies suggest that including sprint and strength training with regular cycling may temporarily increase your metabolism and build muscle, which allows you to burn more calories, even while at rest (2).
2. Cycling will help strengthen your legs
Cycling improves overall function in your lower body and strengthens your leg muscles without overstressing your joints. It targets your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and calves.
To make your legs even stronger and enhance your cycling performance, try doing weightlifting exercises, such as squats, leg presses, and lunges, a few times per week (3Trusted Source).
3. Mood and energy
“I did my PhD work in this area! We measured the benefits of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cycling, in athletes and non-athletes, and there’s definitely a benefit when it comes to perceived energy. Meaning, people felt more energetic after moderate-intensity exercise,” Brooke says. “And they also had better attention afterward. These effects are attributed to what’s called exercise-induced arousal in the brain. It makes you more attuned. You’re using less brain resources to complete tasks, whether that’s at work or at home. This is compared to no exercise, when you’re in a resting state.”
4. 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.
5. Cycling helps you maintain a healthy weight
Like all forms of exercise, cycling can help you achieve or maintain a healthy weight. Studies show that cycling can be an effective way to lose weight.
If you’re looking to increase your calorie burn, you can add high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to your cycling workout. HIIT combines short bursts of high-intensity exercise with brief recovery intervals. Research suggests that HIIT cycling can boost aerobic fitness and lower blood pressure. This type of training increases your metabolic rate, which means you’ll continue to burn calories after you’re done exercising.
6. How often should I cycle?
Generally, adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise every week. You should combine this with strength-training activities at least twice a week, per the CDC.
These guidelines are designed to help you maintain optimal health and reduce the risk of chronic illnesses. And cycling is a great way to get an aerobic workout.
If you are new to cycling, you can start slowly. And remember, some exercise is better than none. Even 10 minutes of cycling can help improve your health. Doing too much too soon can increase your risk of injury and leave you feeling sore or unmotivated. So work your way up to specific fitness goals, and celebrate every win along the way.
7. Heals your heart
Studies from Purdue University in the US have shown regular cycling can cut your risk of heart disease by 50 per cent. And according to the British Heart Foundation, around 10,000 fatal heart attacks could be avoided each year if people kept themselves ﬁtter.
Cycling just 20 miles a week reduces your risk of heart disease to less than half that of those who take no exercise, it says.
8. Helps with creativity
Writers, musicians, artists and all kinds of other professionals use exercise to solve mental blocks and make decisions, and science backs this approach up.
A study found 25 minutes of aerobic exercise boosts at least one measure of creative thinking. Credit goes to the ﬂow of oxygen to your grey matter when it matters most, sparking your neurons and giving you breathing space to come up with an inspired line, guitar lick or brush stroke.
9. Cycling improves mental health
If you’ve ever felt a mood boost after a good workout, there’s a reason. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. And cycling is no exception. For example, a study found that people who biked to work four or five days per week had a lower risk of stress than those who biked fewer than four days per week.
10. Reduces Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Insulin controls your blood sugar, so when your cells become insulin resistant, there is an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Diabetes causes your blood sugar to be imbalanced, which can lead to heart disease, kidney disease, vision loss, and more. Typically, symptoms occur gradually, so it is not always noticeable if a person is developing diabetes.7
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Type 2 diabetes.
But, research has found that recreational and commuter cycling can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. To lower your risk, you would have to cycle consistently, especially because your risk decreases significantly the longer you continue to include cycling in your routine. Even beginning to cycle later in life will still lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, which means it is rarely too late to start.8