5 Health Benefits of Riding Your Bicycle
You don’t have to search very far to come up with a bevy of health benefits of riding your bicycle, but you may be surprised to learn that they go way beyond adding cardio to your exercise routine and building muscle.
“It’s socially oriented, it’s fun, and it gets you outside and exercising,” Dr. Clare Safran-Norton, a physical therapist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, says of cycling.
We often think first about how riding your bicycle can be a great addition to any fitness routine, but it does a lot more than that, too. From helping to improve your posture to improving your mental health, a commute to work or leisurely weekend ride can boost your health in so many ways.
As always, there are a few things you should consider before you hit the road:
- If you have any preexisting medical conditions, especially heart or joint related, you may want to talk to your doctor to ensure you’re not overexerting yourself.
- Remember to wear the necessary safety gear. A helmet and proper clothing can prevent serious injury if you’re in an accident.
- Do a quick check before you climb aboard your bike to make sure none of your clothing, shoe laces or anything else may be interfering with pedals or chain. This will help you minimize the risk of getting hurt during your ride.
ONE: Reduce Cardiovascular Disease
Perhaps the most important muscle you’re exercising when you hop on your bike is your heart! By increasing your heart rate, you are upping blood flow, strengthening the heart, strengthening the lungs and setting off a chain of health reactions that can have big effects on the body, such as managing weight and blood pressure.
One study in the health journal Circulation found that regular cyclists encountered about 15% fewer heart attacks than their counterparts. Even hobby cyclists saw the benefits: partaking in the activity even just leisurely was correlated with lower rates of heart disease, according to the study.
Another study of cyclists in 2017 found cycling, specifically related to commuting, was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer by nearly 45% and all causes of death by 40%.
TWO: Improve Posture
You may think that good posture would be required for cycling, but it can actually be a tool to improve your posture on and off the bike. After all, riding a bike requires you to maintain a relatively straight back, even though you aren’t standing.
“A good neutral riding position starts with the head and goes all the way to your feet. On long rides, check in occasionally with your body position to make sure you haven’t drifted back into bad habits,” advises the road bike experts at Liv.
Make sure to relax the shoulders away from the ears, bend the elbows to help the body with suspension, and keep the knees aligned with your ankles. When everything falls into line, you’re in a good spot to improve posture.
THREE: Mental Clarity
That rush of feel-good endorphins you get after a ride (even if it’s just to the office) is no coincidence! Just like how cycling can increase blood flow into the heart, lungs and muscles, it can into the brain as well. In fact, by biking regularly you can increase the production of new brain cells, making way for better mental health and cognitive function.
All kinds of exercise can be good for your mental health, but riding your bicycle may give you an extra boost because of one specific factor. Some studies have shown that the combination of being outdoors and exercising is a winning combo, particularly for aging adults. The fresh air and exercise both release chemicals that make you feel good!
Another small study in young men found that just 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise, such as biking, “can improve some aspects of cognition, most prominently for memory, reasoning and planning and can shorten the time taken to complete (related) tests.” The best news in this study was that results were lasting. The half-hour of exercise seemed to make a positive impact on participants long after their workout.
Finally, and most importantly, research has shown that commuters who cycle are happier and have more life satisfaction, so whatever health outcomes you’re seeking by cycling will likely be accompanied by a brighter outlook on life.
FOUR: A Stronger Immune System
A stronger immune system is one of the more surprising health benefits from biking. One wouldn’t expect that a daily ride could prevent the sniffles, but scientists are finding that the increased blood flow that comes from cycling gives immunity a boost.
Two studies published in the journal Aging Cell, found that cycling is a great way to encourage your body to fend off infection.
In one study, 125 amateur cyclists aged 55 to 79 were given a series of tests, and as expected, the participants had stable levels of body fat and cholesterol, according to reporting from the Guardian, but researchers also found that the men were generating nearly as many T-Cells (which are responsible for fighting off infection and start to dwindle as you age) as people much younger than them.
Scientists of this study said their findings help confirm that regular exercise as you age can contribute to longevity.
FIVE: Low Impact on Joints
For people who experience symptoms of arthritis, cycling is a great option. Here’s why: it causes less stress on weight-bearing joints like knees, hips and ankles.
“Cycling is a nonweight bearing activity, so it is better for your knees and joints,” Dr. Hirofumi Tanaka, professor of kinesiology and director of the Cardiovascular Aging Research Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin, told the New York Times. “And it does not cause much muscle soreness.”
In fact, studies have shown that because cycling, like swimming, is low impact, people with osteoarthritis are more likely to see “significant reductions in joint pain, stiffness, and physical limitation accompanied by increases in quality of life.”