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healthy couple cycling in the woods
By Mr Andrew Dunn, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon

10 health benefits from cycling

Regular cycling offers a variety of benefits to your health, both mental and physical. Cycling enthusiast and Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon Mr Andrew Dunn, who practices at St Edmunds Hospital, shares the 10 most important health benefits of getting on your bike

Cycling has many benefits, from saving you money on fuel or public transport, to helping the environment by reducing pollution. It's a highly accessible sport that can boost your health in numerous ways.

A number of scientific studies have found that cycling reduces your risks of cancer and heart disease.

Mr Andrew Dunn, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon

1. Cycling improves 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, which can form fatty deposits in the arteries and contribute to heart disease

2. Cycling can reduce stress levels

Riding a bike can be fun! Not only does exercise cause your body to produce happy hormones (endorphins), it's also a great way to forget about the sources of your stress while at the same time getting fit.

3. Cycling burns 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. Cycling for half an hour each day would mean burning approximately 11 pounds of fat in a year.

The exercise also boosts your metabolic rate, meaning you'll continue to burn calories for a while after you get off your bike. So one hour's cycling could potentially equate to even more than 300 calories burnt.

4. Cycling is gentle on your joints

Unlike running, which is a high impact form of exercise, cycling is incredibly gentle on your 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. 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 in physiotherapy programmes as a safe way to build up muscle strength.

5. Cycling helps 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. Cycling works your 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. So you get a great workout for your upper body, too.

7. Cycling helps to fight off common health conditions and possibly lowers the 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 30-40% relative to those who are sedentary, regardless of body mass index.

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%.

8. Cycling 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. Cycling 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. Cycling is a healthy mode of transport for you and for 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 your bank balance.

So what are you waiting for? Get on your bike!

There are proven health benefits to incorporating activity into your commute – whether walking or cycling.

Mr Andrew Dunn, Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon

How cycling combats heart disease and cancer

Did you know that people who cycle regularly are significantly less likely to develop cancer and heart disease? These are just two of many health benefits of cycling.

We're all being encouraged to be more active, with walking or biking our daily commute a common recommendation for increasing our activity levels and improving our overall health.

Yet while most of us know that regular activity can boost our health, many people don't realise just how significant the health benefits of cycling can be.

What is heart disease?

Heart disease is a collective term for a range of different conditions that affect your heart. Common types of heart disease include:

  • Coronary artery disease (and coronary heart disease)
  • Arrhythmia
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Heart attack
  • Angina
  • Stroke
  • Heart failure

Symptoms of heart disease will differ depending on what condition you have. They can include:

  • Chest pain
  • Pain, weakness or numbness in the legs and/or arms
  • Breathlessness
  • A very fast or slow heartbeat, or palpitations
  • Feeling dizzy, lightheaded or faint
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen limbs

If you are worried you may have any of the above conditions, or are exhibiting any of the above symptoms, it's important to speak to your GP immediately.

What does the science say?

A number of scientific studies have found that cycling reduces your risks of cancer and heart disease.

In 2017, researchers at the University of Glasgow concluded a five-year study involving over a quarter of a million people.

During these five years, participants were monitored on their typical method of commute as well as their health. Results were adjusted to take into account factors including sex, age, diet and existing illnesses. The study found that people who cycled to work were 45% less likely to develop heart disease and 46% less likely to develop cancer. These same people were also at a 52% lower risk of death from heart disease if they did develop it, and a 40% lower risk of death if they developed cancer.

Overall, people who cycled to work were at a 41% lower risk of death from any cause. In May 2020, a new study was published in The Lancet that again looked into the link between active modes of travel and the prevalence of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and overall mortality. The researchers looked at Census data over 25 years to see whether different commutes would have an affect on people's health. Again, people who cycled to work were less likely (by 24%) to die of heart disease. They also had a 20% lower overall mortality rate. They were 11% less likely to develop cancer and 16% less likely to die of it if they did.

Walking also reduces the risk of heart disease

The 2017 study also found that people who walked to work had lower rates of heart disease. Walking commuters were 27% less likely to develop heart disease and had a 36% lower risk of dying from it.

Why is cycling good for your heart?

Cycling is an effective form of exercise that has benefits for the whole body. Just as it strengthens your arms, legs and other muscles, cycling can help to strengthen your heart muscle.

The stronger your heart, the more effectively it pumps blood through your body, which lowers your heart rate and reduces the risk of high blood pressure. You'll be reducing the pressure on your heart and in turn reducing your risk of heart disease.

Regular cycling can also help you to lower your levels of bad cholesterol, reduce stress and maintain a healthy weight, all of which are good for your heart.

For most people, commuting is something we do almost every day. That means that turning your commute into a workout is one of the easiest ways to ensure you're getting regular exercise.

Pedal power

We all know that fitting exercise into a busy schedule can be difficult, and often when we get home from work it's the last thing we want to do. But if you are actually exercising (for example cycling or walking) in order to get home, you've already done your workout for the day.

Cycling just 15 minutes to and from work each weekday adds up to the 150 weekly minutes of moderate activity recommended by the NHS.

Many people find that walking, cycling or running to work helps wake them up, setting them up for a more enjoyable and productive day.

There's also the environmental benefit that comes from leaving the car at home.

How to get started

If your workplace is close enough to your home to allow you to walk or cycle there, why not give it a try? Start with one or two days a week and see how it suits you.

To start cycling, you just need a bicycle, a helmet and some suitable footwear. If you don't own one already, many employers offer Cycle to Work schemes that will help you with the cost of a bike, and the government often has similar programmes, too. If you want to start walking to work, all you need is a good pair of shoes.

If you work too far away to walk or cycle the whole way to your place of work, think about whether you could do so for just part of the journey. For example, could you cycle or walk to a train station or bus stop somewhere along the route? Could you get off a few stops early and walk the rest of the way to the office?

There are proven health benefits to incorporating activity into your commute – whether walking or cycling. With such evidence to show the reduced risk of heart disease and cancer from such a small change, what's stopping you?

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