If you’ve ever enjoyed the thrill of a bike ride or the breeze on your face while pedaling down a scenic trail, you’re not just partaking in a leisurely activity. Cycling, both as a recreational pursuit and as a form of transportation, has been proven to offer a myriad of health benefits that can lead to a longer, happier life.
Central to the health benefits of cycling is the enhancement of cardiovascular health. Like all aerobic workouts, cycling increases heart rate, pumps more oxygen to the muscles, and aids in the efficient burning of calories. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), regular cardiovascular exercise like cycling can decrease one’s risk of coronary heart diseases, improve heart function, and even reduce heart disease-related symptoms in patients.
As reported by the AHA, cycling just 20 miles a week can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 50 percent. “Rhythmic pedal strokes enhance heart and lung function, improving blood circulation and oxygen distribution throughout the body. Over time, this can lead to reduced risks of hypertension, stroke, and heart attacks, says the AHA.”
Beyond heart diseases, cycling has been shown to reduce the risk of several other chronic ailments. A study published in the British Medical Journal found that people who commute via bicycle have a lower risk of developing cancer and cardiovascular disease. The regular and moderate exercise from cycling can also help regulate blood sugar levels, reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes.
There are also benefits for those in need of relief from arthritis. A painful joint disease, arthritis, can significantly diminish a patient’s quality of life. Long term use of prescription medications to manage pain and improve mobility may have dangerous side effects. “Outdoors or indoors, cycling is one of the most effective workouts for people with arthritis, says the Arthritis Foundation.
For those looking to shed some pounds or maintain their current weight, cycling is an excellent way to achieve those goals. According to the AHA, depending on the intensity and individual weight, one can burn between 400 to 1,000 calories in an hour of cycling. Paired with a balanced diet, it’s an effective tool for weight management.
It’s not just physical health that stands to gain from cycling; mental health does too. Cycling, especially in nature, can act as a form of meditation. The repetitive pedal strokes, the steady rhythm of breathing, and the ability to zone out and focus on the path ahead all contribute to reduced stress, anxiety, and depression. Moreover, exposure to sunlight and fresh air is known to increase levels of the ‘feel-good’ hormone serotonin, naturally elevating one’s mood.
City residents might be wondering: how can cycling in urban areas, with all its pollution, be beneficial for lung health? Surprisingly, American Lung Association studies have shown that cyclists, joggers, and pedestrians inhale fewer dangerous fumes than those inside cars. The consistent deep breaths taken during cycling ensure that pollutants have less chance of settling in the lungs, keeping them healthier.
Contrary to popular belief, cycling isn’t just a leg workout. While the quadriceps, hamstrings, and calves are primarily engaged, cycling also demands work from core muscles to keep balanced and even the arms and shoulders to steer. Over time, regular cycling can improve muscle tone and flexibility. The circular motion of pedaling also aids in lubricating the joints, particularly in the knees and ankles, reducing the risk of arthritic problems.
While not a direct health benefit, it’s worth noting that increased cycling can lead to reduced traffic congestion and pollution, which in turn contributes to a healthier community. Clean air is a public health asset, and the more people turn to bikes over cars, the better the air quality becomes for everyone.
Perhaps the most compelling argument for hopping on that bike is the possibility of a longer, more fulfilling life. A study conducted in 2017 found that those who cycle regularly have a lifespan that’s, on average, longer than non-cyclists. Moreover, the blend of physical and mental health benefits ensures that this added time is quality time.
The health benefits of cycling are comprehensive and extend beyond the individual to the community and the environment. Whether it’s a serene ride through the countryside, a rigorous mountain trail, or a simple commute to work, cycling promises a healthier, happier future for all who embrace it.
With the rise in awareness about climate change and the need for sustainable practices, cycling also offers an eco-friendly option for transportation, exercise, and leisure. So, the next time you consider how to improve your health and well-being, remember that the answer might just be as simple as a bike ride.