Cycling is a low impact aerobic exercise that offers a wealth of benefits. It also varies in intensity, making it suitable for all levels. You can cycle as a mode of transport, for casual activity, or as an intense, competitive endeavor. Cycling is a healthy, low-impact exercise that can be enjoyed by people of all ages, from young children to older adults. It is also fun, cheap and good for the environment.
Riding to work or the shops is one of the most time-efficient ways to combine regular exercise with your everyday routine. An estimated one billion people ride bicycles every day – for transport, recreation and sport.
The benefits of cycling are almost as endless as the country lanes you could soon be exploring. If you’re considering taking up cycling, and weighing it up against other potential activities, then we’re here to tell you that cycling is hands down the best option.
Cycling is one of the healthiest and low-impact forms of exercise – meaning it causes less strain and injuries than most other work outs. So it’s a hobby you can continue to enjoy throughout you long life. And, unlike other forms of exercise, you won’t dread doing it. Even if you take cycling seriously and go at it hard, the blood pumping and wind in your face is still exhiliarating, even when it’s difficult. But the good news is, you don’t have to take cycling seriously to enjoy it’s numerous benefits.
You probably already know that cycling is good for you—any exercise is better than no exercise, right? But did you know that riding a bike offers a whole host of additional health benefits besides the physical perks? Aside from using your rides to get in the recommended 150 minutes of weekly exercise, there are many other health-related benefits of cycling you get by spending time in the saddle.
There’s a saying among medical (especially orthopedic) professionals that even when you can’t walk or hobble, you can still ride a bike. You can do it if you have bad knees. You can do it if you have bad hips. You can do it if you can’t run more than five feet. Nearly anyone of any fitness level can pedal a bike for five or more miles. Regular or daily cycling has been found to prevent weight gain (and boost fat loss), fight depression, and help stave off a host of health problems, including heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Those are some of the more obvious benefits, but cycling also offers plenty of other unique health benefits of cycling that should get you even more motivated to ride. Here are just a few.
Benefits Of Cycling | According to a Pro Cyclist
Many researchers note that cycling can help improve heart health. For example, one 2017 studyTrusted Source suggests that people who cycle to work experience notable health benefits, including improved cardiovascular functioning.
In addition to a 46% lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease, commuters who cycle to work also have a 52% lower risk of dying from the condition.
The results of the study also indicate that as well as improving heart health, cycling to work may reduce the risk of developing cancer.
A 2011 review of studies confirmed that exercise boosts brainpower and helps to stave off Alzheimer’s in the elderly. And a scientific literature review conducted in 2017 on the benefits of exercise in treating Alzheimer’s concluded the same—that exercise improves cognitive function and helps to slow decline.
But it’s not just seniors that benefit: A 2014 study published in Pediatrics showed that kids are even more positively impacted by time on the bike—and that exercise can help control issues like attention deficit disorder.
Better Heart Health
Cycling is a cardiovascular activity, so it goes without saying it makes your heart stronger and healthier. Exercise like cycling also makes your skeletal muscle more insulin-sensitive, so you’re better able to control your blood sugar level—something scientists now know is essential for clear arteries and good heart health. The overall protective impact cycling has on your heart is pretty impressive.
The British Medical Association reports that cycling just 20 miles a week slashes your risk of coronary heart disease in half when compared with staying sedentary. That’s just three miles a day, or five miles four times a week.
As an aerobic activity, this form of exercise benefits people by helping improve people’s overall health. Although we know cardio benefits your heart health, benefits of cycling has been shown to be specifically powerful for this purpose, with studies showing biking will lower the risk of heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, lipid profiles, cholesterol, and even rehabilitation from cardiac events.
- The incidence of myocardial infarction (MI) is reduced by 3.5% and 3.8% in men and women aged 55-64 who cycled to work.
- The risk for coronary heart disease (CHD) is 11-18% lower in people who cycle commute to work.
- People who regularly cycle are 15% less likely to have a heart attack than those who do not.
- Men who biked to work are 1.7% less likely to suffer from heart attacks.
- Cycling reduced cardiovascular disease incidence by 16%, and CVD-related mortality by 17%.
- Increasing the distance covered when cycling can improve heart and lung function by as much as 30%.
- Cycling reduces high triglycerides levels by 18%, often associated with hypertension and heart diseases.
- Aerobic exercises like cycling, running, and jogging saw a 4.6% increase in HDL (good cholesterol) and a 5% and 3.7% drop in bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides.
- 6% of hypertension cases could be avoided if biking became a part of everyday adult activity.
- Systolic blood pressure was reduced by 4.3% after 3 months of indoor cycling and 11.8% after 6 months.
- Stroke patients who added 30 minutes of cycling, 5 times a week, showed significant improvement in their balance and walking.
- Men who cycle with a moderate to fast intensity live 2.9 to 5.3 years longer than those who pedal slower or not at all.
- Women who cycle with a moderate to fast intensity live 2.2 to 3.9 years longer than women who bike at a slow pace or not at all.
Boost Your Bowels
According to experts from Bristol University, the beneﬁts of cycling extend deep into your core.
“Physical activity helps decrease the time it takes food to move through the large intestine, limiting the amount of water absorbed back into your body and leaving you with softer stools, which are easier to pass,” explains Harley Street gastroenterologist Dr Ana Raimundo.
In addition, aerobic exercise accelerates your breathing and heart rate, which helps to stimulate the contraction of intestinal muscles. “As well as preventing you from feeling bloated, this helps protect you against bowel cancer,” Dr Raimundo says.
Cycling For Health And Fitness
It only takes two to four hours a week to achieve a general improvement to your health. Cycling is:
- Low impact – it causes less strain and injuries than most other forms of exercise.
- A good muscle workout– cycling uses all of the major muscle groups as you pedal.
- Easy – unlike some other sports, cycling does not require high levels of physical skill. Most people know how to ride a bike and, once you learn, you don’t forget.
- Good for strength and stamina– cycling increases stamina, strength and aerobic fitness.
- As intense as you want– cycling can be done at very low intensity to begin with, if recovering from injury or illness, but can be built up to a demanding physical workout.
- A fun way to get fit– the adventure and buzz you get from coasting down hills and being outdoors means you are more likely to continue to cycle regularly, compared to other physical activities that keep you indoors or require special times or places.
- Time-efficient – as a mode of transport, cycling replaces sedentary (sitting) time spent driving motor vehicles or using trams, trains or buses with healthy exercise.
Strengthen Your Immune System By Cycling
This one is particularly relevant during the global Covid-19 pandemic.
Dr. David Nieman and his colleagues at Appalachian State University studied 1000 adults up to the age of 85. They found that exercise had huge benefits on the health of the upper respiratory system – thus reducing instances of the common cold.
Nieman said: “People can knock down sick days by about 40 percent by exercising aerobically on most days of the week while at the same time receiving many other exercise-related health benefits.”
Professor Tim Noakes, of exercise and sports science at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, also tells us that mild exercise can improve our immune system by increasing production of essential proteins and waking up lazy white blood cells.
Why choose the bike? Cycling to work can reduce the time of your commute, and free you from the confines of germ infused buses and trains.
There is a but. Evidence suggests that immediately after intense exercise, such as an interval training session, your immune system is lowered – but adequate recovery such as eating and sleeping well can help to reverse this.
It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that weight loss is one of the big benefits of regular cycling, but it bears repeating. Yes, diet is a very important component to weight loss and fat loss, but science shows that exercise is helpful, too.
Studies have shown that older, diabetic women could only drop visceral fat (harmful fat that can increase risk of heath problem such as heart attack, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes) if exercise, along with diet, was introduced into their routine. And, a 2015 study published in the Journal of Hepatology also found that aerobic exercise (like cycling) helped overweight and obese participants drop visceral fat.
Sleep Like A Baby
It’s hard to overstate the importance of sleep. Your body and brain heal while you rest. Without enough sleep, your hormone levels (especially stress hormones) get out of whack, and you’re more likely to overeat and gain weight, as well as have more mood disorders and lowered immunity. In one of the most striking studies on the subject, the sleep habits and body-weight trends of 68,000 women were studied over a period of 16 years. The researchers found that those who slept only 5 hours a night were 32 percent more likely to gain 33 pounds or more over the course of the study compared with their peers who slept 7 hours a night.
Regular aerobic exercise like cycling promotes quality sleep even among those who struggle to get their shut-eye. In a study by researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine, previously sedentary insomnia suffers who started cycling just 20 to 30 minutes every other day reduced the amount of time it took to fall asleep by half and increased their total sleep time by nearly an hour.
Benefits Of Cycling For The Joint And Bone Health
Unlike running, cycling is easy on the knees. Bikers don’t repeatedly pound their feet on the hard ground when they bike, thus it makes for a good aerobic exercise option for people who suffer from knee or ankle pains when they run.
- Middle-aged people who biked for 45 min/day, 3 days/week, at 60 to 70% heart rate for 12 weeks have increased the range of motion of their knees by 15 to 30% and a significant reduction in pain.
- Biking for 30 to 60 minutes, 4 days a week, at 75–85% maximum heart rate, will induce enlargement of muscle fibers.
- Cycling for 45 min/day, 3 days a week, at 60-70% of heart rate for 12 weeks produced significant reductions in joint pain, stiffness, physical limitations, and quality of life for adults with osteoarthritis.
- People with osteoarthritis who took up cycling for 12 weeks reported a 74.07% to 86.03% decrease in joint pain.
King’s College London compared over 2,400 identical twins and found those who did the equivalent of just three 45-minute rides a week were nine years ‘biologically younger’ even after discounting other inﬂuences, such as body mass index (BMI) and smoking.
“Those who exercise regularly are at significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, all types of cancer, high blood pressure and obesity,” says Dr Lynn Cherkas, who conducted the research. “The body becomes much more efficient at defending itself and regenerating new cells.”
One study suggested that even casual bike commuters benefit: For individuals who shift from car to bicycle, it was estimated that three to 14 months of life could be gained compared to the potential downsides of bike commuting. Another recent study from 2018 showed that riding between just one and 60 minutes a week could cut the risk of early death by up to 23 percent.
Cycling Builds Muscle
The resistance element of cycling means that it doesn’t just burn fat: it also builds muscle – particularly around the glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves. Muscle is leaner than fat, and people with a higher percentage of muscle burn more calories even when sedentary.
To be clear – you won’t end up with quads like a track sprinter unless you invest a serious amount of time at the squat rack. But you will develop a nice toned derriere.
Lowered Risk of Cancer
Maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, and a conscientious diet (think: lots of leafy greens, lean proteins and healthy grains) all help lower your risk of cancer. And a 2015 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at nearly 14,000 men and concluded that those with a higher fitness level as they approached middle age were at a lower risk for lung and colorectal cancer.
Benefits Of Cycling For Seniors And Older Adults
Much like how walking benefits older populations, cycling I a low-impact exercise, making it ideal for older adults. Aside from keeping their blood pumping, it has also been discovered to have a positive effect on the brain health of seniors.
- Older adults who bike reported a decision time that is 15.5% faster than those who don’t cycle.
- Older adults recorded strength gain that is 3 times higher than younger people who underwent cycle training.
- The reaction time of seniors who bike is 22.8% faster than non-cyclists.
- Those who regularly biked for 20 years had less sway and greater static balance when standing still compared to non-bikers.
- Cellular aging in older adults who bike or engage in high physical activities has decreased by 9 years as shown by longer telomeres which are associated with a longer lifespan.
- Cycling is known to increase the blood flow and delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the brain and is associated with a reduced risk of dementia or Alzheimers.
- After just 8 weeks of taking up cycling, older adults improved their reaction time when identifying color words correctly.
- Many studies have shown that cycling significantly increases muscle strength, balance, and overall reaction time in older adults and seniors.
Cyclists Have Better Lung Health
You won’t be alone if this point seems contradictory to common sense. But a recent study suggests that people who ride a bike are actually exposed to fewer dangerous fumes than those who travel by car.
A study by the Healthy Air Campaign, Kings College London, and Camden Council, saw air pollution detectors fitted to a driver, a bus user, a pedestrian and a cyclist using a busy route through central London.
The results showed that the driver experienced five times higher pollution levels than the cyclist, as well as three and a half more than the walker and two and a half times more than the bus user. Long story short: the cyclist won.
Everyone knows that exercise can help reduce stress, but a 2018 study in the Lancet of over one million (!) participants confirmed that cycling is one of the top stress-busting activities. Cyclists enjoyed 21.6 percent fewer days of poor mental health compared to those who didn’t ride. This was only second to team sports (22.3 percent), and above other aerobic and gym activities. Simply making your rides group rides can help you reap the social benefits of a team sport and increase the amount of good days you have.
Benefits Of Cycling For Diabetics
Though some diabetics believe that their condition prevents them from engaging in certain types of physical activities, studies have shown that cycling helps with blood sugar regulation. It can also prevent others from developing diabetes.
- Those with type 1 diabetes are able to reduce their insulin dosages while eating the same amount of carbohydrates by incorporating regular cycling into their routines.
- Regularly cycling for 30 minutes a day at a moderate intensity decreases a person’s chance to develop diabetes by 40%.
- Blood sugar levels of obese people were reduced by 50% within 24 hours by cycling in a moderate intensity for 30 mins to an hour a day.
- After 6 months of active bike commuting, peripheral insulin sensitivity, or the ability to readily absorb glucose increased by 20% for leisurely riders and 26% in those who cycle vigorously.
- Pregnancy-induced diabetes mellitus can be prevented by cycling at a moderate to maximum intensity 3 times a week.
- 20 minutes of regular biking reduces blood sugar levels by 25.0 mg/dl.
Cycling Improve Your Sex Life
Most of us know that sex is a good thing, but not everyone knows that it’s actually good for your overall health. In fact, regular sex could indeed prolong your life.
Dr Michael Roizen, who chairs the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, says: “The typical man who has 350 orgasms a year, versus the national average of around a quarter of that, lives about four years longer.” Similar findings were revealed for women.
So can cycling improve your sex life? Well – it builds some rather essential muscle groups. Dr Matthew Forsyth, urologist and keen cyclist from Portland, Oregon, commented: “All these muscles [worked on the bike] are used during intercourse. The better developed these muscles, the longer and more athletic intercourse will be.”
Add in that – thanks to spending plenty of time showing off all the lumps and bumps in skintight lycra (and occasionally double-oh-AND-seven) – cyclists tend to be fairly comfortable in their own skin, and you’ve got a recipe for success.