Be inspired to get on your bike by the Tour de France and your health could benefit in a lot of different ways. Here are 10 reasons to kick-start a healthy new hobby today
Cycling has many benefits, from saving you money on fuel or public transport, to helping the environment by reducing pollution. Our focus is on the numerous health benefits of this highly accessible sport, and because cycling is fun, you might not even realise how much you’re doing for your body and mind. We spoke to Andrew Dunn, cycling fan and orthopaedic surgeon at BMI St Edmunds Hospital, to get the facts about the health benefits of getting on your bike.
1. Improve your cardiovascular fitness
Cycling works just about every muscle in the body, including the heart. By cycling uphill, fast or just at a quicker pace than you might on a leisurely Sunday bike ride, you will lower your blood pressure. This reduces strain put on the heart, in turn reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease. Cycling, like any form of aerobic exercise, increases the presence of good cholesterol in the body, whose job it is to transport fat away from arteries. Some evidence suggests that exercise ‘may reduce levels of bad LDL cholesterol that can form fatty deposits in the arteries and contribute to heart disease’1.
2. Reduce stress levels
Riding a bike can be fun! Not only does exercise cause your body to produce happy hormones (endorphins), but it’s a great way to forget about the sources of your stress while at the same time getting fit.
3. Burn fat and calories
Cycling is a really great way to burn fat and calories, whether you’re looking to maintain your weight or drop a few pounds. Cycling at a steady pace burns around 300 calories an hour. While cycling for half an hour each day would mean burning approximately 11 pounds of fat in a year. And the benefits aren’t just confined to the time you’re actually pedalling, but for a long time after you’ve got off your bike. This is because it boosts your metabolic rate. Andrew Dunn explains: “For example, someone who weighs 80kg (12st 9lbs) will burn more than 650 calories with an hour’s cycling.”
4. Be active but gentle on joints
Unlike running, which is a high impact form of exercise, cycling is incredibly gentle on joints.“I see a large number of patients who have severe osteoarthritis of their hips or knees and find high impact types of exercise difficult and painful,” says Andrew Dunn.
“Cycling is a very safe way for them to remain physically active without aggravating their painful arthritic joints. In fact, a large number of patients notice an improvement in their arthritis symptoms if they increase the tone and strength in the muscles around a painful arthritic joint.”
Cycling is often used in sports injury clinics as part of rehabilitation and physiotherapy programmes as a safe way to build up muscle strength.
5. Improve muscle tone and strength in the legs
Pedal power is an intense workout for your legs. The more cycling you do, the stronger your legs will look and feel. You’ll notice this increased strength in everything you do, from climbing stairs to running around the park with the children or grandchildren.
6. Work the upper body, too
While cycling is clearly excellent exercise for your legs, when you ride up hills or over rough terrain, “70% of your body weight goes through the saddle and handlebars, rather than your hips, knees and ankles”, says Mr Dunn. So you get a great workout for your upper body.
7. Helps to fight off common health conditions, and possibly lower risk of developing some cancers
Research carried out in Finland found that people cycling for 30 minutes or more per day had a 40% lower risk of developing diabetes. Other research carried out in the US and around the world shows that ‘adults who increase their physical activity, either in intensity, duration, or frequency, can reduce their risk of developing colon cancer by 30 to 40% relative to those who are sedentary, regardless of body mass index’2. There’s also convincing research to suggest that you can reduce your risk of developing breast cancer by taking regular exercise. The results of studies vary, but show that the risk could be reduced by between 20 and 80%2.
8. Builds stamina
As with any form of exercise, the more often you cycle the longer you’ll be able to ride for before you feel tired. Building stamina is not only really great for your overall fitness, but it also gives a sense of personal achievement, which is important for good mental health.
9. Helps fight depression
The effects of depression are different for everyone, but what’s common in all those who suffer is that the release of endorphins can be very beneficial. Cycling is a great way to increase the endorphins in your body, making you feel happier and more positive.
10. Healthy mode of transport, for you and the environment
Once you’ve bought a bike (and helmet), you’ve got access to free and completely green transport. And instead of being sedentary in the car, or on a bus or train, you’ll be moving, getting fit and toning up. So it’s win, win for cyclists, the environment and the bank balance.
The first leg of the Tour de France starts on 2nd July, 2016, during one of the UK’s brightest month. Now’s the perfect time to take up cycling or upping the amount you already do.
Andrew Dunn believes that “if adults, aged 19-64, do two or more hours a week of steady cycling, they’ll be making massive steps towards improving their health and wellbeing”. What are you waiting for? Get on your bike!
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