Health Benefits of Cycling

by David Wilson

mountain biking

Mountain Biking in Gwydyr Forest (© Phil Champion)

Not only is cycling fun but also it gives you a package of health benefits that few other exercises can beat. Spending time on a bicycle can benefit nearly every part of your body and be exciting at the same time.

Being outdoors, breathing in the fresh air and taking in the scenery – it can even improve your mind. If you are looking to start cycling for exercise, here are some of the ways it can make you fitter and healthier.

Improves Cardiovascular Health

Cycling is one of the best ways to up your cardiovascular fitness, which affects how efficiently your heart and lungs work. A stronger heart and lungs means less stress, lower blood pressure, and less risk of developing coronary disease, stroke, or other cardiovascular diseases.

Cycling is better for this purpose than walking because it’s easier to get your heart rate up to a beneficial level on a bicycle. Regular cycle exercise can also change your blood chemistry, so your body produces less low-density, or “bad” cholesterol and more high-density, or “good” cholesterol.

Benefits Your Full Body

While your legs and rear do most of the work on a cycle, your entire body has to be active as well. Keeping your balance on a cycle works all the body’s major muscle groups.

Your lower back and core do the work of keeping you upright on the saddle, while your shoulders and wrists get a workout from gripping the handlebars, maintaining balance, and steering.

The upper-body benefits will be intensified when you are up out of your seat and powering your way up a steep incline.

Increases Stamina and Strength

Combine better cardio fitness with all-over muscle work, and you end up stronger and more energetic. You’ll look and feel healthier and your body will use energy more efficiently.

So you’ll tire less and be better able to fight off infection and disease – reducing your chances of catching the flu or common cold.

Helps Lose Weight

Cycling will melt the pounds off your waist, and elsewhere, like nothing else. It’s a highly aerobic exercise that burns a lot of calories. However, you want to avoid ‘steady state’ exercise for weight loss.

‘Steady state’ is where your heart rate reaches a point where it no longer needs to increase to produce the same amount of work, which is why mountain biking is so good, or cycling up and down hills.

Try to avoid cycling on flat surfaces at constant speeds. Or if you prefer to stay on level surfaces you can simply vary your speed by pedalling hard for 30 seconds then slowly for 30 seconds.

With most of your weight supported by the saddle, even if you’re too heavy to move easily, you can still get exercise as long as you can get on a bicycle. Cycling also accelerates your metabolism for short periods of time, so your body continues burning fat for a little while even after you put your bike away.

Strengthens Bone and Joint

Cycling is a low-impact exercise that can be done even by those with weak knees, sore backs, and other aches and pains that might prevent more strenuous exercises.

Riding a bicycle means a constant gentle flexing of the body’s major joints, as opposed to running, which subjects the joints to repeated sharp impacts.

Cycling stretches and relaxes the tendons that hold the joints together, and strengthens the cartilage that pads the joints. The result is a stronger, more supple skeletal system, less risk of developing arthritis, and fewer nagging joint pains.

Improves Coordination and Concentration

Cycling can be a way of mental training to keep your brain and body agile. As the saying goes, once you learn you never forget how. But at the same time, once you’re on a bicycle you have to be able to concentrate on several different things at once: the road ahead, the motion of your legs, the position of your arms, maintaining your balance, and keeping up your pace.

The concentration needed to operate a bicycle can help reduce mental stress and fatigue by clearing your mind and giving you something simple to devote all your attention to. Of course, getting out into the world and getting some fresh air has its own mental benefits too!

(Wilson is a cycling enthusiast and owner of one of the largest bike shops in Tasmania. His store also provides the best mechanical servicing for bike shops Hobart has to offer. In his spare time, Wilson likes to spend time with his family, go mountain climbing, skiing and watch movies.)

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