Want to reduce your waistline and your carbon imprint? Cycling just might be for you. More than a pollution-free way of getting you from point A to point B, riding a bike yields health and fitness benefits beyond the obvious.
Like all forms of moderate intensity exercise, regular cycling—three to five times a week for a total of 150 minutes—will reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and improve your overall health, and may even reduce the risk of some forms of cancer. Cycling will improve your endurance and aerobic capacity, as well as toning various muscle groups like the calves, thighs and back. An hour of cycling can burn anything between 250 and 700 calories (1,046 and 2,930 kilojoules), depending on the intensity. It is also an excellent stress reducer. For those who may be overweight and/or have joint problems which make it difficult for them to do weight-bearing exercise, cycling is a good fitness option.
Regular cycling at a healthy level can have a beneficial effect on many of the body’s organs and systems.
• The heart and circulatory system
When you exercise, your heart beats faster to pump more blood around your body to supply enough oxygen for your muscles to do their work. This will make your heart bigger and stronger, just as your biceps get bigger when you exercise them. It also prevents the build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries of your heart, which is why people who engage in regular physical activity have a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease compared with those who don’t.
Regular aerobic activity such as cycling can also prevent, delay or improve high blood pressure; lower your total cholesterol levels; and increase the ratio of ‘good’ cholesterol to ‘bad’ cholesterol in your blood.
Regular cycling lowers body fat and improves lipid profiles, making it less likely to develop arterial disease—a risk factor for stroke.
• Muscles and joints
Exercise improves muscle strength, coordination and balance, which lessens the likelihood of falls in the elderly and improves joint mobility and lubrication. Muscle endurance and tone will result, and prominence of the working muscle groups like the calves and thighs can be noticed. Posture and balance also improves. Gentle cycling may help arthritis sufferers, lessening joint pain and swelling and increasing flexibility.
One of the skin’s major functions is as an excretory organ of the body and during cycling, blood flow to the skin increases to rid the body of heat. This will improve your capacity to regulate your temperature in warmer conditions.
The slight increase in blood carbon dioxide levels that occurs during exercise will cause your breathing to become faster and deeper. This action also increases the delivery of oxygen into the lungs, which can then be taken up by the blood to supply the additional oxygen needed by the body. Regular aerobic exercise like cycling will improve your lung ventilation and efficiency. There is also evidence that moderate intensity activities such as cycling may reduce the risk of lung cancer.
Researchers have also reported that biking and other routine physical activities of 30 minutes a day may help women avoid gallstone surgery. People who exercise have more active intestines which, along with the improvement in cholesterol profile, may help reduce the risk of gallstones.
myDr, 2000, 2001. Adapted from original material sourced from MediMedia.
©Copyright: myDr, UBM Medica Australia, 2000-2012. All rights reserved.
For tips on biking right, grab a copy of HealthToday’s April issue, out now in newsstands and bookstores.