5 UNDERRATED HEALTH BENEFITS OF CYCLING
If there’s one good thing that’s come out of 2020 so far – it’s the record-high number of cyclists out on the streets. In fact, the sales of bicycles have more than doubled over the course of this year!
So, with the cycling revolution that we’re witnessing this year, we wanted to ask the question: is cycling only good as a quarantine physical activity, or is there more merit to this exercise than we give it credit for?
The incredible health benefits of cycling are often not given their due credit – but we’re here to change that. In this article, we’re giving you a round-up of five benefits of cycling and why you should start incorporating this activity into your workout regime:
1. THE PRACTICE OF ACTIVE MINDFULNESS
Many of us have heard of the benefits of meditation, but for one reason or another just can’t seem to switch off our high-paced brains to find that inner peace. Enter active mindfulness or moving meditation. It’s essentially the act of doing something focussed and completely in the moment. For many people, this can come in the form of cooking or taking the dog for a walk but going for a cycle is another easy way to enter in this state of stillness.
The health benefits of cycling, therefore, align themselves nicely with those of mindfulness and meditation. These include benefits like better mood, a higher stress threshold, better sleep and much more. Exercise, as we know, induces the release of adrenaline and endorphins, which gives you a boost for the day and makes you energetic too. Imagine combining those benefits with that “water off a duck’s back” attitude towards stressful stimuli that we all secretly covet.
And there are even health benefits of cycling 15 minutes a day because simply getting outdoors and moving your body helps with that pesky stress hormone cortisol. High cortisol levels were normal (and necessary) back in the Stone Age when we had to high tail it out of risky situations, but these were short bursts only, with levels dropping back to normal once the danger or stressor had passed. These days, however, with stress levels being elevated for longer and longer periods of time (with no bear or sabretooth tiger in sight), these levels of cortisol can negatively affect everything from our sleep, mood and even our workout recovery and physiological health.
So, what are you waiting for? Get on your bike and pop down to the shops or take a leisurely ride around your local park. Your mental health will thank you for it.
2. INCIDENTAL EXERCISE FOR SECRET FAT-BURNING POWER
One of the most attractive benefits of cycling (like many forms of exercise) is its perceived ability to help shift those unwanted pounds. Obviously, as a general rule, you need to burn more calories than you consume to lose weight but cycling for an hour can burn between 400 to 1000 calories (however, the number of calories burned depends on the intensity and the rider’s weight, of course). This makes the benefits of cycling for weight loss variable from person to person.
So what did I mean by “secret fat-burning power”? Well, as many of you know, cycling is a great vehicle to take you from point A to B. Say you’re heading to the gym most mornings, or you walk to your local park for a run, or you’re heading out to meet your friends for a coffee. Sure, you could walk there, but what if you took your bike? Incidental exercise is such an awesome trick to have up your sleeve because it means you’re burning extra calories without even meaning to.
You don’t have to carve out time in your day to do it, you’re just swapping it out for something more sedentary (like driving or taking the Metro) or something that burns fewer calories (like walking). As it’s a low-impact exercise, it won’t tire you out and depending on the intensity with which you decide to cycle, you won’t end up too sore to do your regular workout on the side.
Sports physiologists have actually found that the rate at which your body burns fat was increased not only during a ride, but also hours after. Sports physiologist Mark Simpson from Loughborough University said that “Even after cycling for 30 minutes, you could be burning a higher amount of total calories for a few hours after you stop,”
3. HACK YOUR BIOLOGICAL AGE
Do you know the difference between your chronological age and your biological age? Essentially, your chronological age is your age counted by the number of years you’ve been here on this earth. Your biological age (also known as your physiological or functional age) is, in simple terms, the age your body acts. It takes into account things like your chronological age, your nutrition, lifestyle, genetics, illnesses or disease and does some fancy mathematical equation to work out what age your body feels like it is.
For example, if you’re 25 but your diet is poor, you don’t move your body and you’re a pack-a-day smoker, your chronological age would most likely be much lower than your biological age. Essentially, your body would be much older than you think it is.
A research study by King’s College London compared over 2,400 identical twins and discovered that those who did just three 45-minute rides in a week, were nine years “biologically younger.” This is because regular physical activity lowers the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and some types of cancers. It makes the body more robust and more efficient at protecting itself from germs and viruses as well as improving the ability to regenerate new cells.
4. IT’S GOOD FOR THE PLANET
We all know that cycles are eco-friendly, but what are the benefits of cycling when it comes to the environment?
Principally, it comes down to one main benefit. Bicycles have a much lower carbon footprint than cars, buses, and trains because they don’t require any fuel to run, therefore don’t contribute to pollution.
At the moment, across all different kinds of consumption the human race is participating in, we would need 3.9 earths to sustain us to keep living the way we do.
Sure, jumping on your bike might not feel like an earth-shattering revelation for climate change, but taking into the account the standard European diet (as in carbon footprint terms, this is the “fuel” that runs a bicycle) it still emits 10x less carbon than a car.
Keeping in mind the standard European diet still consists of high levels of meat consumption, the difference between your human-fuelled bike and a petrol-fuelled car in terms of carbon emissions could be even bigger if the human powering that bike began to minimise their consumption of animal products. Research shows if those who consume 100g of meat daily cut their consumption in half (50g daily) they would save just under 1 tonne of carbon per year. Pretty impressive stuff, right? Worried about your protein requirements? Check out our range of plant-based protein powders here.
5. SWAP HIGH IMPACT FOR LOW IMPACT
By riding a bike, you limit the stress put on your joints such as hips, feet, and knees compared to other cardio activities like running. Additionally, these movements help with the lubrication of the joints, helping minimise pain and stiffness. Stiffness can occur due to periods of inactivity and bad posture (hello sedentary, computer-centric work-life and ill-equipped home offices) and can also worsen your joints.
A study published in the Journal of Rheumatology found out that cycling improved the quality of life for middle-aged and older adults suffering from osteoarthritis. Think you’re too young to need to worry about this kind of cycling health benefit? Remember that for the most part, lifestyles in the 21st century are the most sedentary the human race has ever known. With movement one of the biggest factors at keeping issues like arthritis at bay, it’s important to keep these studies top of mind as we spend all afternoon on our laptops with questionable posture and funkily positioned wrists, tapping away at that keyboard.
So next time you’re hopping on your bike (which we hope after this article will be pretty darn soon) and someone asks you “but what are the health benefits of cycling?”, we hope you get as excited as we now are and send them this article.
Now off you go, on your bike! Happy cycling!