In this article, you will learn all the health benefits of cycling.
Are you considering taking up cycling? Whether you’re thinking of heading outdoors on your bike as a way of losing weight, increasing your fitness levels, or simply as a hobby, cycling is undeniably one of the best ways to exercise.
All of the above are excellent reasons for cycling and, for the most part, are the main reasons why people get into it in the first place. But did you know that there are a wealth of other benefits that you’ll get from cycling, too?
Below, you’ll find a complete guide on the benefits of cycling. You’ll learn how it’s ideal for keeping you physically and mentally fit, along with some of the more surprising benefits you never knew cycling came with.
Benefits Of Cycling
Let’s start by taking a look at some of the main benefits that come from cycling.
These are mostly centered around physical health and, while most people take up cycling as a way to shift a few extra pounds, there are some extra health benefits you won’t expect cycling to offer.
It Improves Mental Well-Being
Cycling is one of the best ways to clear your mind and support your mental health.
As with all exercise, pedaling away on your bike and building up a sweat will release endorphins into your bloodstream.
Endorphins are a ‘happy chemical’ and as they are produced, our stress levels are brought down.
The influx of endorphins following exercise is fairly common knowledge, but did you know that it’s only one of several neurotransmitters produced by your body following exercise?
These neurotransmitters can help to beat depression, reduce stress, and increase your focus. Below, we’ll take a look at each of these neurotransmitters and discuss exactly what each of them is responsible for:
People who suffer from depression tend to have low serotonin levels. As a result, antidepressants are often prescribed as a way of boosting serotonin and easing depression.
However, serotonin is a brain-boosting chemical that is naturally released following exercise, specifically cardiovascular workouts.
Cycling falls into this category and, therefore, spending more time on your bike will raise your serotonin levels naturally and reduce your risk of developing depression.
When you cycle intensively, two small glands located just above your kidneys work alongside your brain to boost your production of norepinephrine.
This is both a hormone and a brain chemical that increases your alertness and focus. As a result, you’ll find it easier to concentrate on tasks and you’ll generally be more productive in your daily activities.
BDNF (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor)
This is arguably the most important chemical that is released into your body when your cycling as its primary role is to foster long-term brain health.
It forms new connections between nerve cells and helps to repair nerve cells that are damaged.
And, as if that wasn’t enough, BDNF is also responsible for maintaining the regions of the brain that are used for memory, particularly in the hippocampus
This is the “motivation and reward” brain chemical. If you’ve found yourself capable of carrying out a variety of tasks following a cycling session, it’s dopamine that you have to thank.
As with our serotonin levels, a low level of dopamine can lead to depression, so it’s an essential chemical for improving our mental wellbeing.
The most famous of all the neurotransmitters associated with exercise, endorphins are the ultimate happy chemical.
They are responsible for that feeling you get following an intense workout and, as with serotonin and dopamine, they can help beat depression. They also help with pain relief and, following the initial high, bring a sense of calm to our minds.
Each of these neurotransmitters is released into our system when we cycle.
This means that one of the biggest benefits you’ll get from cycling is an improved mental state, so it’s ideal if you’re currently suffering from depression or if you find yourself battling anxiety.
It’s also a great way of blowing off some steam if you find yourself getting regularly stressed as cycling is a fantastic way to clear your mind and lower your cortisol levels.
Unmanaged stress levels can lead to further mental health issues, so it’s important to keep them in check.
Mounting your bike and heading out into nature will give you a boost of all of the above neurotransmitters, keeping your mind focused and reducing the chances of developing a serious mental health issue.
There’s also a social aspect that comes with cycling that can help to improve our mental wellbeing.
Cycling gives you the opportunity to meet new, interesting people from all walks of life and, in the process, you’ll find yourself making new friends and gaining confidence.
It will also improve your self-esteem and as you hit new targets and reach new goals, you’ll start to feel much better about yourself.
This sense of satisfaction is a great stress-reliever and it can even help you gain self-control skills that help you manage stress more effectively in the future.
It Strengthens Your Immune System
Keeping your immune system in good condition allows your body to fight off germs and wards off certain illnesses. We mostly look towards our diet and vitamin supplements to keep our immune systems healthy and, while this is essential, cycling can also strengthen our immune system.
Up to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous cycling each day can enhance your immune function and your metabolic activity.
This is because the physical exertion you put into moving your bike forward flushes out any nasty bacteria lurking in your lungs or airways. In turn, this dramatically reduces the risk of developing the flu.
As we cycle, our body temperature increases too and it’s also thought that this temperature rise prevents bacteria from growing.
By raising our body temperature through cycling, we’re able to fight infection in the same way that we get a fever when we’re ill.
In fact, one study found that cycling for just half an hour each day can cut the amount of sickness absence an employee takes from work each year in half!
It Helps You Lose Weight
Many people take up cycling as a way of losing weight, and they see a lot of success in their weight loss journey as cycling is a highly efficient way of burning calories.
We all know that in order to lose weight, we need to create a calorie deficit and become more physically active.
The more our heart rate increases, the more out of breath we get, and it’s this process that burns calories.
When you’re cycling, you’re increasing your heart rate through a pedaling motion and this can lead to a calorie burn of between 200-500kcals per 30 minutes (depending on your current weight).
If you’re considering taking up cycling as a way of losing weight, however, it’s important that you don’t go push yourself too hard from the start.
Below, we’ll look at some of the best ways to increase your chances of success and reduce the risk of injuring yourself.
1. Start Slow:
If you’re brand new to cycling, heading outdoors and attempting to ride for miles without any previous training will only result in injury.
As such, you’ll be spending more time recovering and less time creating a calorie deficit. So, ease yourself into your cycling workouts slowly.
Aim for a 20-30 minute bike ride at a moderate pace, before gradually increasing distance and intensity over time.
2. Track Your Progress:
By tracking your progress, you’ll be able to see how cycling is benefiting your weight loss journey over time. This is useful if you’re starting to feel as though you’ve hit a plateau and aren’t making progress.
Looking back over your recorded measurements will prove to you that you’re headed in the right direction.
It’s also a good idea to keep track of your distance and timings at the end of each bike ride. This will show you how your overall fitness levels have increased and will act as motivation to keep going!
Once you’re feeling as though you’re able to cycle for a longer distance and want to increase the intensity of your workout a bit more, interval training is a great way of boosting your calorie burn.
Interval training on a bike also increases your metabolic rate for up to 48-hours after your workout, which means that you continue burning a higher number of calories even when you’re resting.
Interval training on a bike is easy. Simply pedal at an increased rate for a 1-minute interval, followed by a 30 second rest period.
Set yourself a number of 1-minute intervals you’d like to reach, and complete the set. You can then increase your number of intervals over time.
4. Tackle Hills:
It can be all-too-tempting to cycle exclusively on flat ground. However, while this will increase your heart rate, it will become easier over time as your fitness levels increase. As a result, the number of calories you burn will begin to fall.
Keep challenging yourself by tackling any hills you come across during your bike ride. This will increase your endurance and fitness levels, while simultaneously boosting your calorie burn.
Cycling Builds Muscle
We know that cycling is a great way to burn calories and lose weight. But it’s also a really great way to build muscles in several different areas of your body.
Muscle power is needed to push your body weight against the pedals and move the bike forward.
As this happens, tiny tears in your muscle tissue form and, as these tears heal, the muscles become stronger, bigger, and more defined.
So, what muscles can you expect to build through cycling? Your leg muscles are the obvious group, but there are many more muscle groups that benefit from cycling than you might expect.
Let’s take a look at what leg muscles are used while cycling, to begin with. Each of these muscles contracts in a sequence to create a pedaling motion.
- Calf muscles
- Hip flexors
- Gluteus maximus
- Plantarflexors of the foot
- Dorsiflexors of the foot
To keep yourself upright on a bike, your upper body muscles are employed while you’re cycling. While they aren’t under as much strain as your leg muscles, each of the groups below still gets a good workout:
- Internal and external abdominal muscles
- Back muscles
There are a couple of different cycling techniques you can try to build muscle through cycling, too. The first of these is to stand while you’re riding.
This will add some more resistance to your pedaling, so you’ll need to use more of your body weight to get the bike moving, and you’ll be giving your calves a good workout while you do.
You’ll also be engaging your abdominal muscles more as it will become a little harder to keep yourself stabilized.
You can also try riding uphill as a way of building muscle through cycling. Gravity will be working against you while you do this and you’ll need to engage more muscle power to reach your destination.
In turn, you’ll be giving your quadriceps and hamstrings a thorough workout.
Reduces The Chances Of Heart Disease & Cancer
As if cycling wasn’t beneficial enough for our overall health, a study conducted by The University of Glasgow found that cycling reduces the chances of developing heart disease and cancer.
In fact, the research found that cyclists had a 46% lower risk of cardiovascular disease, and a 45% lower risk of developing cancer.
But why is this? Let’s look at how cycling can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, to begin with.
Cycling regularly stimulates your heart and, just like any other muscle group, this stimulation increases the heart’s strength. It also lowers your resting heart rate and reduces your blood fat levels.
So, to put it simply, the more you cycle the stronger your heart becomes. This reduces your risk of developing heart disease and suffering from a stroke or a heart attack. It can also help to reduce your blood pressure.
Cycling reduces your chances of developing certain cancers by keeping your overall health in good condition.
We know that cycling is good for losing weight and maintaining a healthy BMI and, since being overweight is one of the biggest causes of developing cancer, by cycling regularly you’re dramatically reducing the risk.
It may interest you to know that some people that are diagnosed with cancer are actually encouraged to take up cycling as a part of their treatment.
This is because it promotes the creation of phagocytes. These cells are designed to fight infections and mobilize bacterial and cancer cells.
Regular, gentle cycling can also reduce some of the side effects of chemotherapy, including:
- Eases nausea
- Eases fatigue
- Improves blood flow to the legs and reduces the risk of blood clots
- Stimulates digestion and elimination systems, so can ease constipation
- Reduces the risk of developing depression and anxiety
So, not only is cycling beneficial for preventing cancer from forming in the first place. But, it can also be an effective, natural way to ease some of the treatment side-effects and help you feel better both physically and mentally.
All of the benefits of cycling that we’ve listed above are things that you might have expected to find in this guide. But regular cycling also comes with many hidden benefits that you might not be aware of.
Below, we’ll take a look at the other benefits of cycling. If you’re thinking about taking up cycling, knowing these things will definitely help to strengthen your urge to start.
And, if you’re already an active cyclist, you may find some things that you didn’t even realize you were benefiting from when you head outdoors on your bike!
Cycling Is Good For The Environment
We’re all becoming increasingly aware of climate change and how our day-to-day activities are affecting the planet. In fact, things have gotten so bad that the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration have noted that the Earth’s average surface temperature has risen by 1.4ºF since the start of the 20th century.
So, how does cycling stop this temperature from rising any higher and protecting the environment? Well, there are actually a few ways it helps.
Since bikes are manually-powered, they don’t produce any gasses or pollutants when they are in motion.
Research from the U.S Environmental Protection Agency has shown that 28% of greenhouse gasses being released in the atmosphere come from transportation vehicles. Bikes, on the other hand, produce absolutely no greenhouse gasses!
When you’re cycling, whether it’s to and from work or to get to a social engagement, you’re reducing the number of vehicles on the road.
And, the fewer vehicles there are, the fewer greenhouse gases there are being pumped into the atmosphere.
No Need For Fuel
Around 7.28-billion barrels of petroleum are consumed each year in the United States alone.
Petroleum is a non-renewable fossil fuel, which is extremely harmful to the environment in a variety of ways including air pollution, soil degradation, and even the formation of acid rain.
However, if no fuel is needed, the demand for fuel falls, and the environment benefits as a result.
Fewer Resources Needed In Bike Manufacturing
A lot of energy and resources are used for building vehicles, and thousands of tons of waste and air pollution are generated each year. Conversely, the resources needed to manufacture bicycles are much simpler and smaller.
Far less energy is used to produce a bike than is needed to manufacture a motorized vehicle. So, by choosing to ride a bike, you’re reducing your carbon footprint before you’ve even taken it for your first cycling adventure!
It’s A Good Method Of Transport
So, we know that choosing a bike over a car or another motorized vehicle is a better choice for the environment.
But there are also many personal benefits that come with making this switch, too.
You Don’t Need A License
One of the best things about choosing to cycle instead of driving is that you don’t need a license to ride a bike!
This means that you don’t have to worry about taking a driving test or spending hours cueing for your license once you’ve passed. Instead, you can simply hop on your bike and go.
Cheaper To Finance
Cars are ridiculously expensive. Depending on the make and size, a brand new car can cost you anywhere in the region of $21,000 – $37,000.
Most people won’t be able to pay for this upfront either and, as a result, may end up in a monthly payment plan with added interest that ends up costing even more money in the long run.
On the other end of the spectrum, the average cost for a good bicycle is around $500. You may need to add certain accessories, such as lights or rain gear, but that will only raise the overall cost by a couple of hundred dollars.
All in all, you’ll be able to save thousands of dollars by choosing a bike instead of a car. Meanwhile, you’ll be improving your health and saving the planet. It’s a win-win situation!
Cheaper To Maintain
Bikes are also much cheaper to maintain than a motorized vehicle.
Unless you know the inner workings of what’s going on underneath your car’s hood, you’ll need to take it to a mechanic if something goes wrong. And this comes with a hefty price tag.
You also don’t have to factor in fuel costs with a bike, which keeps the maintenance costs down even more.
That’s not to say that bikes don’t require occasional maintenance, but much of this can be self-taught through YouTube tutorials and online instructions.
Even if you’re not particularly keen on the idea of maintaining your bike yourself, the cost of getting it done professionally will be dramatically cheaper compared to a car.
Faster Than Cars
We’re not talking about speed over distance here, as there’s no way a bike would be able to beat a car in an open-road race. However, in urban areas, cycling is often a faster way of getting to your destination than traveling in a car.
This is because many cities have designated bike lanes. So, rather than sitting in traffic for hours on end, you’ll be able to breeze straight past a line of angry drivers and horn-honking.
More importantly, you’ll reach your destination on time without having experienced any stressful traffic on the way.
No Parking Issues
Using a bike as your method of transportation means that you don’t have to spend hours searching for a parking spot. Instead, you can simply secure it to a bike rack, fence, or post, and walk away.
You also don’t have to deal with the nightmare situation of a parking dispute. Angry neighbors banging on your door because you’ve “parked in their spot” simply isn’t something that you’ll need to stress about.
Bikes are even compact enough to store in your home, so they are less likely to suffer from damage or get stolen when not in use.
Let’s not forget, either, that parking a car is often accompanied by an expensive fee. Choosing to ride a bike instead keeps this cost down too, leaving more money in your pocket!
Cycling Boosts Brain-Power
We mentioned earlier how certain neurotransmitters are produced when you cycle and these help to elevate your mood and improve your overall mental wellbeing.
But cycling can also boost your brain’s power as well as reduce the risk of developing mental health issues.
This is because it exercises your brain in the same way it does with every other muscle and cell in your body.
As we cycle and our heart rate increases, our blood flow increases too. This allows our bodies to build more capillaries and these carry more blood and oxygen to our muscles.
The same thing happens with our brains. Regular cycling allows the cardiovascular system to grow further into the brain and, as a result, more oxygen and nutrients are delivered to the brain cells. This improves its health and performance.
Remarkably, cycling can even build new brain cells. This happens when the neurotrophic factor BDNF combines with a chemical compound called ‘noggin’, resulting in the creation of proteins.
And, just as with body muscles, these proteins build your brain’s muscles!
As we age, our network of brain cells and neurotransmitters grow weaker. But, through regular cycling, you can strengthen them and ensure that they are functioning as healthily as possible for many years to come.
The brain-boosting benefits of cycling don’t end there, though. Another study found that pedaling a stationary bike for a 30 minute period boosted cognitive performance.
This study consisted of asking a group of young men to carry out a series of cognitive exercises before and after they started cycling.
After the 30-minute cycling session, they each scored higher on memory, planning, and reasoning than they did beforehand. They were also able to complete the tests in a faster time.
Another benefit that cycling has on our brain function is that it can help older people prevent Alzheimer’s disease. As we’ve discussed above, regular cycling improves our memory function and reduces the risk of cognitive decline.
By cycling regularly, older people are able to keep producing new brain cells and feeding existing brain cells with oxygen to improve their brain function.
It’s even been shown that one year of aerobic exercise (such as cycling) can result in the hippocampus growing slightly, equating to reversing up to two years of age-related shrinkage.
Helps You Sleep Better
Of course, all of the cognitive benefits of cycling can be undone if you don’t get enough sleep.
But this isn’t really something you need to worry about as another benefit of cycling is that it can actually help you sleep better!
It manages to do this in a few ways. First of all, we know that regular cycling helps to reduce our cortisol (stress hormone) levels. The less stressed we are, the more likely we are to be able to get to sleep at night.
Cycling also requires physical exertion. And, put simply, the more tired we feel, the more likely our brains are to shut off and go to sleep as a way of restoring our energy levels.
We also know that weight gain can lead to sleep apnea. Since cycling is an effective way to lose weight and maintain a healthy BMI, our sleep patterns and behaviors improve.
When you cycle outdoors, you’re also increasing your Vitamin D levels through exposure to sunlight. One study of the effects of Vitamin D on sleep found that increasing our levels can result in the following:
- A better quality of sleep
- A greater amount of sleep
- A better subjective sleep experience
- Lower sleep latency
We also know that our bodies produce serotonin when we head outdoors for a bike ride and this gives us a mood-boost when it’s released. But this isn’t all it does.
Serotonin also promotes sleep, working alongside dopamine and melatonin, to promote deep and sustained slumber.
Serotonin helps to regulate your circadian rhythm, as well. This is what signals to your body the time to go to sleep and the time to wake and, if your serotonin levels are optimal, this will usually happen at around the same time each day.
This means that it doesn’t only help you get a better night’s sleep, but it also helps to develop a steady awake/sleep pattern.
So, if you’ve found that you have trouble sleeping at night and getting up in the morning, taking up cycling could be the solution to your problem.
It Can Improve Your Posture
When you’re cycling, you need to keep your body and your bike stabilized and upright.
This improves your overall balance and your coordination, but it will also result in an overall improvement to your posture.
When you’re cycling, you’re likely to be sitting with your back straight and your shoulders back. Eventually, your body will naturally retain this posture each time you sit down.
Cycling will help to strengthen your back too, which improves your standing and sitting posture as well.
Improving your posture also keeps your balance strong as you age, so there’s less of a risk of falling and breaking or fracturing any bones in the process.
You do, however, need to make sure that your posture is correct while you’re cycling. If you don’t do this, your posture won’t improve and you may end up injuring yourself instead.
Below, we’ll take a look at the correct posture for cycling. Paying attention to this will help keep you upright and balanced when you’re on your bike, as well as improving your overall posture over time.
1. Keep Your Shoulders Relaxed:
It’s easy to find your shoulders creeping slowly upwards while you’re cycling. This might feel comfortable at first, but it actually puts an unnecessary strain on your shoulders, neck, and back.
This can also create a safety issue as it becomes harder to quickly check over your shoulder before turning. Instead, try to keep your shoulders as relaxed as possible.
2. Bend Your Elbows:
Maintain a slight bend in your elbows and try and keep them tucked into your sides while you’re riding. This will act as suspension and prevent any bumps you encounter on the road from sending you flying off your bike!
Adopting this posture will also reduce the pressure on your shoulders, hands, and wrists.
3. Maintain A Neutral Spine & Engage Your Core:
Keep your back relatively straight while you’re cycling, but don’t lock it into a line. If you keep your core engaged as you pedal, this back shape will come naturally to you.
If you don’t activate your abdominal muscles, then you risk putting pressure on your hands, shoulders, back, and crotch.
4. Keep Your Knees In Line With Your Feet:
Don’t let your knees bow outwards when you’re cycling. This doesn’t only make it harder to pedal, but can create painful knee issues over time. Instead, focus on keeping each knee in line with the ball of your feet while you ride.
These are all quite simple steps to follow, and doing so will help to ensure that your posture is correct when you’re cycling.
In turn, you’ll find that your overall posture improves when you’re not on your bike, and you’ll strengthen your balance and coordination without even realizing it!
Don’t forget to stretch before and after you go for a bike ride, too. Doing this will help to warm your muscles up and cool them down, so there’s less of a chance of developing DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Syndrome).
Doing this will allow you to head out for another cycling session sooner much sooner than if you haven’t.
Stretching will also help to improve your posture as it will stop your muscles from seizing up, so it’s a really important thing to do.
It Can Slow Down Aging
While cycling won’t necessarily eradicate any wrinkles that have started forming across your skin, it can certainly slow down the aging of your muscles and your immune system.
As we age, we begin to lose muscle tissue.
In fact, as soon as you turn 30 your muscle mass can reduce as much as 3%-5% over a single decade.
Body fat and connective tissue also begin to invade our muscles, affecting their ability to contract. They also aren’t able to absorb oxygen at the same rate as they could when we were younger.
Cycling slows down this muscle-aging process by keeping your muscles, respiratory system, and cardiovascular system strong and healthy.
Put simply, the more you exercise your muscles the less likely they are to suffer from the signs of aging.
Regular cycling can also slow down the aging in the following ways:
- It stabilizes the testosterone levels in men
- It helps you preserve the strength of your muscles
- It allows you to keep a consistent body fat percentage
- It improves your cholesterol levels
Cycling is a low-impact way of keeping your joints in good shape too, which is something that is definitely worth doing as you get older.
It doesn’t come with the same impact-shock as jogging since the majority of your weight is on the saddle, and you’ve got more control over how fast your pedal and the sort of terrain you cycle on.
It’s not exclusively muscle deterioration that cycling can slow down as we age, either.
As we’ve spoken about before, regular cycling increases the flow of blood to the brain and, in doing so, it strengthens and maintains our cognitive and memory functions.
What effect does cycling have on the immune system as we age, though? Well, as we start getting older, the thymus (the gland that produces T-cells, begins to shrink.
The purpose of T-cells is to fight off antigens and viruses and if we have a reduced number of T-cells, the likelihood of getting ill starts to increase.
One study discovered that older people who had been cycling for a while were able to produce the same level of T-cells as most adults in their 20s. Conversely, a group of older adults with sedentary lifestyles were producing far fewer.
As you can see from everything we’ve detailed above, there are a huge number of benefits that come from cycling.
Getting on your bike and heading outdoors will help to boost your mood, increase your fitness levels, and prevent any future health conditions from forming.
It’s also much better for the environment than driving and it comes with a much smaller cost!
Regular cycling will even help you get a better night’s sleep and can improve your brain function, your posture, and delay the effects of aging throughout your entire body.
So, what are you waiting for? Grab your bicycle and get riding! You’ll be pleased that you did and you won’t only benefit from the immediate post-cycle feeling, but you’ll also be caring for your physical and mental health in the long run.