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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. 

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!