Learning how to ride a bike is almost a rite of passage for any kid. In many places, it’s thought of as a mode of transportation, not just exercise. Cycling offers many health benefits and is something that people of nearly all ages can do, inside or outside.
On the whole, cycling is low-impact, moves joints through their full range of motion and burns calories to help with body composition and blood sugar control. And it’s social — encouraging participants to get outdoors and travel great distances with friends or stay indoors and create a gym class community.
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Cycling is often prescribed as therapy for patients who are rehabilitating from injuries in other sports or when they are unable to support their body weight. Cycling — especially indoor cycling — allows people with back pain, lower leg injuries, knee injuries and many other conditions to benefit from movement, enhanced blood flow and muscle activation that can be easily controlled using gears, route choice and resistance settings.
There are many people with arthritis, knee joint damage or even knee replacements who use cycling to gain relief and rehabilitation. Because sedentary life is damaging metabolically and muscularly, it’s important to find a mode of exercise that can be progressed safely. While it might be uncomfortable to start, the benefits of less discomfort due to enhanced blood flow and strengthened muscles, as well as better metabolic health, are reasons to start pedaling!
Many runners turn to cycling after years of pounding the pavement to balance out the impact. While cyclists must be careful that they also do weight-bearing activities like strength training and walking, the inverse is true for runners. Cycling provides an opportunity for runners to take the load off their bones and joints while still training their cardiovascular systems. This low-impact exercise can be enjoyed for years in addition to other sports or as a replacement for a high-impact sport you might have enjoyed in your younger days.
Body weight and diabetes are large problems in North America, if not the whole world. A good diet goes a long way toward controlling body weight and blood sugar, but movement also helps tremendously. While any activity will help, cycling is especially good because you can start immediately. Running and other sports require more soft-tissue adaptation and/or skill acquisition to get started, but the phrase “it’s like riding a bike” is well-known for good reason! Further, as you become more proficient, you can push your workload and duration to boost energy expenditure.
Cycling also has the benefit of group rides, clubs and classes that can provide a social motivation to stay on top of your nutrition and healthy habits.
More and more, we are seeing the benefits of being outside in nature and also the importance of developing real — not Facebook — friendships. Cycling is one of the best sports for socializing as it allows participants to ride side by side and chat casually, perhaps while completing errands or exploring new terrain.
Being in nature is also said to benefit a host of conditions including mental fatigue, stress levels, sleep quality and mood. Anytime we can combine movement with errands, social interaction and nature, it is a win for our overall health.
There are so many different ways to ride and styles of bikes, including tricycles and recumbents, so you can start at any age and ability. If you are debating taking up cycling, give your local spin class, city-bike rental service or bike shop demo day a try, and see what health benefits come your way!
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