Cycling Your Way to Better Health

kneschg, Flickr Creative Commons

kneschg, Flickr Creative Commons

Guest post by Evelyn Pearce

Cycling means many different things to different people. It’s an environmentally-friendly mode of transport, a relaxing pastime, a great way to explore a new town, an element of a fitness regime and a competitive sport. Whatever the reason for taking to the saddle, cycling can offer a range of health benefits and largely being an outdoor activity provides advantages above and beyond attending the gym, fitness class or playing a sport inside. Here we take a look at some of the positive impacts that cycling can have for your health, making it an ideal activity to incorporate into your week.

Supports weight loss

As being overweight places you at higher risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers and joint disease, losing the excess weight confers big benefits to health. Someone weighing in at around 200lb can expect to burn about 370 calories if they cycle gently for an hour; doing this three times a week would allow them to lose a pound in weight each month even if they made no other changes. Arthritis or generalized joint pain are common problems amongst people who are overweight, but as cycling is not weight bearing, this takes the pressure off the joints allowing them to exercise in comfort, so is an ideal form of activity for this group.

Cardio-protective effects

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in many industrialized countries, so taking steps to reduce our risk should be a key priority for everyone. While what we eat plays a role in maintaining the health of our heart, regular cardiovascular exercise such as cycling can help to strengthen the heart muscle and reduce other risk factors for heart disease. When taking part in cycling a number of times each week you can expect to see a fall in your resting pulse and blood pressure; not only does the heart not have to work so hard, but transporting blood at a lower pressure helps to maintain the health of the blood vessels making them less susceptible to narrowing. Your cholesterol level will also improve, seeing a fall in the LDL cholesterol that is associated with narrowing of the arteries, as well as an increase in the protective HDL version; with less narrowing, the blood is more able to flow easily. An increase in blood circulation around the body will provide a range of benefits, helping to supply all the tissues with blood, so the chances of a stroke, kidney disease and in men, impotence, are less likely. Although certain medications improve blood circulation, it is best to give them a helping hand by taking part in regular exercise.

Better blood sugar control

It isn’t just important for those who have diabetes to worry about their blood sugar control, but as type 2 diabetes is increasing at such an alarming rate and brings with it potential complications including blindness, kidney failure and stroke, we all should take an interest. However, the good news is that regular exercise like cycling can reduce your risk of developing diabetes by half. When you work your muscles as you do when you ride a bike, they need more energy, which your body supplies in the form of the sugar glucose; as a result when your muscles remove this from the blood, blood glucose levels naturally fall.

Boosts mental health

Many people are familiar with the idea that taking part in exercise stimulates the body to release endorphins, a group of hormones that make us feel contented. This could be one of the reasons why people who take part in regular exercise such as cycling have better mental health and when they do experience problems such as anxiety or depression they are better able to manage their feelings. However, outdoor activities appear to provide an even greater benefit to mental health than those undertaken indoors; it appears that being outside in the fresh air surrounded by greenery potentiates the effect of exercise by itself. Cycling may also help to ward off dementia, as studies show that taking part in moderate activity regularly can reduce your chances of developing this by 30%.

Increases Vitamin D production

Traditionally the action of the sun on our skin has been our main source of Vitamin D, but with more of us spending less time outdoors and when we do, being careful with our skin’s exposure to the sun in view of the risk of cancer, Vitamin D deficiency is on the rise. Although people who are housebound or who have more skin pigmentation are at greatest risk of deficiency, from the results of various scientific studies the Vitamin D Council estimates that as many as 50% of the world’s population are at risk. This is an issue not just for bone health, but for a range of other medical conditions; Vitamin D deficiency is now linked to an increased likelihood of developing depression, type 1 diabetes, certain cancers and multiple sclerosis. Getting out on your bike more often, particularly between April and September when we are able to make most Vitamin D, could help you to reduce the chances of you going short on this important vitamin.

With five very good reasons to get on your bike, what are you waiting for?

Go back to Cycling

“Evelyn Pearce is a freelance writer and mother of two. Born in Bloomington, Indiana, she first went to Paris to study French, failed, then went to England to do art history and photography. While love and kids got in the way of that, she retained an interest and has slowly begun to write on many subjects, but her favourite ones are always about art. Someday she hopes to take up photography again, well, beyond baby photos that is.”