The Hidden Benefits of Cycling

Many people cycle for different reasons; some of the benefits of cycling are to get fitter, lose weight, or to save money commuting to work. I cycle to work to beat the traffic congestion as it’s quicker to cycle the six miles than to take the car.

Whatever your reason for cycling is it could be the best decision that you ever made. Not convinced, below are ten reasons why cycling could help change your life in the long run.

Benefits

Cycling for your cognitive health

Research into how the brain works have shown that a low impact repetitive sport like cycling can help you to have a healthy brain. A study by Maryland Psychiatric Research Center in 2015, has demonstrated that by doing a repetitive exercise can improve the white matter in your brain.

While this may not seem important, it’s the white matter that links the areas of the brain. A slowdown in this area can lead to slowness in cognitive responses.

The individuals in the study were chosen at random and split equally between schizophrenia patients and healthy individuals. A six-month static bike exercise program was developed for half of the participants who were chosen at random.

At the end of the study, brain scans showed that cycling regularly had increased the integrity of the white matter for the participants of the exercise program.

Regular cycling has shown to help grow your brain. The flow of blood to your brain helps to bring good stuff like nutrients, oxygen, and proteins.

Riding helps to increase the production of proteins by two or three times the normal levels. Proteins are used to build new brain cells which will help to counteract the normal decline of the brain as we get older.

Improves your mental health


It’s been well documented that the release of endorphins results in people feeling happier. The International Journal of Exercise Science conducted a study in 2014 to see if they could determine how much your mental health improved while exercising.

The study selected twenty-seven sedentary students to test against. They were split into three groups, two groups to exercise using a static bike and a treadmill the last to do nothing.

The study was done over a three-week span, which resulted in ten sessions of half an hour exercise for the two groups. When the results came in, they showed that the groups that exercised had an average of 11% increase in mental health.

Now I’m not saying you’ll get an 11% increase after five hours of exercise, but you should be happier. Now combine this with riding outside with great views and fresh air what’s not to like.

You can also take this time to work through your worries or concerns so that when you get back with the increased blood flow, you’re ready to tackle anything life throws at you.

Look younger than you are

The health benefits of exercise have been pretty well documented over the years, but did you know that High Intense Interval Training (HIIT) can help down to your skeletal muscle.

This is done on a molecule level; a scientific study published in Cell.com has shown that at the molecule level, the age-related process was reversed with the mitochondrial proteins.

These proteins allow your body to regenerate better at a cellular level which enhances the reduction in ageing.

Cycle more for a healthy heart.

Heart

As you would expect regular exercise can help lower your blood pressure which is a good thing

A study by the British Medical Journal found that cycling to work helped reduce your chance of dying from cancer by up to 45%, and reduced the risk of heart disease by up to 46%.

This doesn’t mean that if you rush out and buy a bike to commute to work, you’ll reduce your chance of heart disease. The researchers looked at a large cross-section of the UK population, comparing them against the negative outcomes for heart disease and cancer.

They found that the people who tended to commute to work on a bike were the healthiest in terms of not getting heart disease or cancer.

So why is this, the UK health organisation recommends that we should get about three hours a week physical activity. Our heart is a muscle, and just like all of our other muscles, this needs to be exercised.

Regular Cycling not only exercises our leg and arm muscles but our heart as well and as the study shows leads to a lesser chance of heart disease.

Reduce your stress

We all know that exercise makes you happier and can reduce your stress. A study by the Lancet, using over a million participants confirmed that riding your bike is one of the best activities you can do to beat stress.

Cyclists enjoyed a 21.6% increase in their wellbeing compared to others; this came in second only to team sports which enjoyed a 22.3% increase.

You can see just how much happier you are when you next go riding if you pass a car take a quick look at the driver and you should see the difference.

One of the positive side effects of de-stressing is that you sleep better. No study can directly link this, a lot of studies have concluded that when you’re de-stressed, your anxiety is reduced, which is the main cause of sleepless nights.

With the benefit of cycling, you protect yourself against weight gain, which is a major cause of sleep apnea as you age. This can cause both you and your partner loss of sleep, if your partner is like mine, they don’t function well the next day on interrupted sleep.

Cycling can help burn fat

Cycling is a great low impact sport that can be beneficial to weight loss, burning between 400 and 1000 calories an hour, depending on the intensity and your weight.

As a general rule, you need to be exercising at about 75% heart rate capacity to burn fat. This means you need to be a bit breathless but able to hold a conversation. For an intense cardio workout to improve stamina, you need to be at about 95% heart rate capacity; this builds stamina and muscle in your lower body. 

However, if you are aiming to lose weight cycling alone won’t be enough to move the scales. You’ll need to look at the number of calories you are consuming in a day. Cycling and a balanced diet will definitely affect your weight loss.

While you’ll burn the fat, you’ll also gain muscle in the lower half of your body. This potentially needs to be balanced out with some form of exercise for the muscles on the top half of your body.

Get more family time

Cycling can be done as a family. Take the time to plan your route out with stops that will mean the kids have something to do. It doesn’t need to be excessively long but more fun and enjoyable.

There are so many ways you can achieve this from sitting your youngest in a seat on your bike to attaching a pull along to your stem. The more you do this, the better the whole family will feel, with all the added benefits of cycling don’t be surprised if your kids take up the sport going forward.

However, a word of warning as they reach their teenage years, you’ll become an embarrassment to them when you put your lycra on to go for a ride. I know mine tell me when they take the time to look up from their phones.

Increased energy levels

Increasing your stamina is proportional to the amount of effort that you put in. While it‘s true, any exercise is better than none, increasing your stamina is what we aim to achieve as a cyclist so that we can enjoy it for longer.

Putting in the extra effort will improve your health; it will also make the next ride out easier. If you follow a HIIT program, then your stamina will increase rapidly.

I follow A HIIT program when I get on the trainer. I’ve found this to help me when I then go out on the road as it becomes easier. On a trainer you cannot coast like you can on the road; otherwise, a resistance trainer will stop.

Your partner will thank you

It’s well documented that having regular sex has a positive outcome on your mental health as well as potentially increasing your life span.

Sex like cycling if done correctly, gets the blood pumping and releases those endorphins that give you a natural high. This is why, after a hard ride (ahem), you feel happy, your self-confidence has gone through the roof.

Cycling improves your muscle stamina in your legs, buttock, and lower back, and all of these areas are used during sex. In short, the more stamina you have, the longer your session can last.

It’s been reported in the past that being in the saddle can affect male impotence. This isn’t true; there have been many studies around this subject with experts dismissing them saying the data or results are flawed.

While you may experience numbness below this will be because of the pressure on the perineum which is between your genitals and your anus. Excess pressure on this area can temporarily cause numbness if the blood flow is stemmed.

It might be an idea to swap a really long ride for a session between the sheets if you can get your partner to say yes!

Live for longer

Older cyclist

According to one study that was focused on the Tour de France riders, they had an increased life span of 17% over the general population. The general population have an average life expectancy of 71 years, while the pros on tour averaged 81.5 years.

According to the American Journal of Preventive Medicine swapping out your car for a commute on a bike to work once a week could help you to live longer by up to 23% between 3 – 14 months. The study focused on exercise between one minute and sixty minutes.

Lastly, if all the other benefits haven’t convinced you at the very least, would you like to live longer?

Safety considerations when cycling

If you plan to cycle every day or commute to work here are a few things you should consider

Check your bike over before you leave. Ensure the brakes work, your chain is in good condition and well lubricated, and if on an E-bike, your battery is in good condition. these are the very basic check you need to perform before every ride.

Check the weather and dress accordingly, ensuring your comfort on your ride is important if you want to enjoy it. Ensure that whatever you decide to wear, it’s not loose enough that it can be caught up in the wheels or chain.

I know it sounds silly but if your cycling during the hottest part of the day, apply sun cream. If the unfortunate happens and you come off, treating gravel rash or a cut while your skin is burnt from the sun is no laughing matter.

Try to plan your route to avoid the busiest of roads if possible. Sticking to cycle paths helps to prevent accidents. 

Conclusion

Cycling is a great way to enjoy a low impact activity with additional health benefits. You get to see some incredible sights on your ride, with no two rides ever being the same. Explore your local area or go further afield and never have the boredom that comes with exercising in a gym.

Whichever way you enjoy your cycling, stay safe.

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