The health benefits of regular cycling
Whether it’s to boost your fitness, health or bank balance, or an environmental choice, taking up bicycle riding could be one of the best decisions you ever make. Not convinced? Here are 30 reasons to ride a bike, whether you want to improve your health, happiness, relationships or all three.
1. Boost your bowelsAccording to experts from Bristol University, the beneﬁts of cycling extend deep into your core. “Physical activity helps decrease the time it takes food to move through the large intestine, limiting the amount of water absorbed back into your body and leaving you with softer stools, which are easier to pass,” explains Harley Street gastroenterologist Dr Ana Raimundo. In addition, aerobic exercise accelerates your breathing and heart rate, which helps to stimulate the contraction of intestinal muscles. “As well as preventing you from feeling bloated, this helps protect you against bowel cancer,” Dr Raimundo says.
2. Increase your brain powerNeed your grey matter to sparkle? Then get pedalling. Researchers from the University of Illinois found that a 5 per cent improvement in cardio-respiratory ﬁtness from cycling led to an improvement of up to 15 per cent in mental tests. That’s because cycling helps build new brain cells in the hippocampus – the region responsible for memory, which deteriorates from the age of 30. “It boosts blood ﬂow and oxygen to the brain, which ﬁres and regenerates receptors, explaining how exercise helps ward off Alzheimer’s,” says the study’s author, Professor Arthur Kramer.
3. Beat illnessIs cycling good for you? Yes! Forget apples, riding’s the way to keep the doctor at bay. “Moderate exercise makes immune cells more active, so they’re ready to ﬁght off infection,” says Cath Collins, chief dietician at St George’s Hospital in London. In fact, according to research from the University of North Carolina, people who cycle for 30 minutes, ﬁve days a week take about half as many sick days as couch potatoes.
4. Live longerKing’s College London compared over 2,400 identical twins and found those who did the equivalent of just three 45-minute rides a week were nine years ‘biologically younger’ even after discounting other inﬂuences, such as body mass index (BMI) and smoking. “Those who exercise regularly are at significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, all types of cancer, high blood pressure and obesity,” says Dr Lynn Cherkas, who conducted the research. “The body becomes much more efficient at defending itself and regenerating new cells.”
Save the planet and explore by bike. Win-win. Joseph Branston
5. Save the planetTwenty bicycles can be parked in the same space as one car. It takes around 5 per cent of the materials and energy used to make a car to build a bike, and a bike produces zero pollution. Bikes are efﬁcient, too. You travel around three times as fast as walking for the same amount of energy and, taking into account the ‘fuel’ you put in your ‘engine’, you do the equivalent of 2,924 miles to the gallon. You have your weight ratio to thank: you’re about six times heavier than your bike, but a car is 20 times heavier than you.
6. Cycling improves your sex lifeBeing more physically active improves your vascular health, which has the knock-on effect of boosting your sex drive, according to health experts in the US. One study from Cornell University also concluded that male athletes have the sexual prowess of men two to ﬁve years younger, with physically ﬁt females delaying the menopause by a similar amount of time. Meanwhile, research carried out at Harvard University found that men aged over 50 who cycle for at least three hours a week have a 30 per cent lower risk of impotence than those who do little exercise.
7. It’s good breedingA ‘bun in the oven’ could beneﬁt from your riding as much as you. According to research from Michigan University in the US, mums-to-be who regularly exercise during pregnancy have an easier, less complicated labour, recover faster and enjoy better overall mood throughout the nine months. Your pride and joy also has a 50 per cent lower chance of becoming obese and enjoys better in-utero neurodevelopment. “There’s no doubt that moderate exercise such as cycling during pregnancy helps condition the mother and protect the foetus,” says Patrick O’Brien, a spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.
8. Heal your heartStudies from Purdue University in the US have shown that regular cycling can cut your risk of heart disease by 50 per cent. And according to the British Heart Foundation, around 10,000 fatal heart attacks could be avoided each year if people kept themselves ﬁtter. Cycling just 20 miles a week reduces your risk of heart disease to less than half that of those who take no exercise, it says.
Warning: cycling may induce happiness. Etienne Schoeman
9. Your boss will love youNo, we don’t mean your Lycra-clad buttocks will entice your superiors into a passionate ofﬁce romance, but they’ll appreciate what cycling does for your usefulness to the company. A study of 200 people carried out by the University of Bristol found that employees who exercised before work or at lunchtime improved their time and workload management, and it boosted their motivation and their ability to deal with stress. The study also reported that workers who exercised felt their interpersonal performance was better, they took fewer breaks and found it easier to ﬁnish work on time. Sadly, the study didn’t ﬁnd a direct link between cycling and getting a promotion.
10. Cycle away from the big CThere’s plenty of evidence that any exercise is useful in warding off cancer, but some studies have shown that cycling is speciﬁcally good for keeping your cells in working order. One long-term study carried out by Finnish researchers found that men who exercised at a moderate level for at least 30 minutes a day were half as likely to develop cancer as those who didn’t. And what was one of the moderate forms of exercise they cited? Cycling to work. Other studies have found that women who cycle frequently reduce their risk of breast cancer by 34 per cent.
11. Lose weight by riding your bikeLoads of people who want to shift some heft think that heading out for a jog is the best way to start slimming down. But while running does burn a ton of fat, it’s not kind to you if you’re a little larger than you’d like to be. Think about it: two to three times your body weight goes crashing through your body when your foot strikes the ground. If you weigh 16 stone that’s a lot of force! Instead, start out on a bike. Most of your weight is taken by the saddle, so your skeleton doesn’t take a battering. Running can wait…
12. You’ll make more moneyIf you’re cycling to lose weight then you could be in line for a cash windfall… Well, sort of. Researcher Jay Zagorsky, from Ohio State University, analysed data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth – which saw 7,300 people regularly interviewed between 1985 and 2000 – to see how their obesity and wealth changed over that period. Zagorsky concluded that a one unit increase in body mass index (BMI) score corresponded to an £800 (approx. RM4,300) or 8 per cent reduction in wealth. So, shed a few BMI points on the bike and start earning.
Cyclists breathe in fewer fumes on the street than drivers. Daniel Banham