LEAP asked Exercise Physiotherapist, Dr Morag Thow (MCSP,BSc,Dip PE. MBE) to provide an expert opinion on the merits of cycling to sustain and improve Health and Fitness:
The Importance of Regular Exercise
To be fit and healthy you need to be physically active. Regular physical activity can help protect you from serious diseases such as obesity, coronary heart disease, some cancers, mental illness, type 2 diabetes and improves or prevents arthritis.
Riding your bicycle regularly is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of health problems associated with a sedentary or inactive lifestyle.
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.
Cycling for health and fitness
It only takes 150 minute a week to achieve a general improvement to your health. Cycling is:
- Low impact – it causes less strain, impact and injuries than most other forms of exercise.
- A good muscle workout for your legs
- Easy form of activity 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.
- When weather is bad you can have an indoor bike to still get the benefits of cycling
- 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.
Health benefits of regular cycling
Cycling is mainly an aerobic or endurance type activity good for your cardiorespiratory system. You will breathe deeper, perspire and experience increased body temperature, which will improve your overall fitness level.
The health benefits of regular cycling include:
- increased cardiovascular fitness
- increased muscle strength of lower limbs
- improved joint mobility especially legs
- decreased stress levels
- improved posture and coordination
- helps in weight management
- prevention or management of disease
- reduced anxiety and depression
Cycling and specific health issues
Cycling can improve both physical and mental health, and can reduce the chances of experiencing many health problems.
Obesity and weight control
Cycling is a good way to control or reduce weight, as it raises your metabolic rate, builds muscle and burns body fat. If you’re trying to lose weight, cycling must be combined with a healthy eating plan. In addition, doing some weight s or resistance exercise to increase lean muscle will also help weight management Cycling is a comfortable form of exercise and you can change the time and intensity you can built up slowly.
Research suggests you should be burning at least 8,400 kilojoules (about 2,000 calories) a week through exercise. Steady cycling burns about 1,200 kilojoules (about 300 calories) per hour.
Cardiovascular disease and cycling
Cardiovascular diseases include stroke and coronary heart disease. Regular cycling stimulates and improves your heart, lungs and circulation, reducing your risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Cycling strengthens your heart muscles, lowers resting pulse and improves cholesterol levels.. A Danish study conducted over 14 years with 30,000 people aged 20 to 93 years found that regular cycling protected people from heart disease.
Cancer and cycling
Many researchers have studied the relationship between exercise and cancer, especially colon and breast cancer. Research has shown that if you cycle, the chance of bowel cancer is reduced. Some evidence suggests that regular cycling reduces the risk of breast cancer.
Diabetes and cycling
The rate of type 2 diabetes is increasing and is a serious public health concern. Lack of physical activity is thought to be a major reason why people develop this condition. Large-scale research in Finland found that people who cycled for more than 30 minutes per day had a 40 per cent lower risk of developing diabetes. Regulars exercise also helps with weight management too!
Bone health, arthritis and cycling
Cycling improves strength, balance and coordination. It may also help to prevent falls and fractures. Riding a bike is an ideal form of exercise if you have osteoarthritis especially of the knees, because it is a low-impact exercise that places little stress on joints.
Cycling does not specifically help osteoporosis (bone-thinning disease) because it is not a weight-bearing exercise.
Mental health and cycling
Mental health conditions such as depression, stress, anxiety and low mood can be reduced by regular bike riding. This is due to the effects of the exercise itself and because of the enjoyment and fun that riding a bike can bring.