Whether it’s congested city streets, lack of public transportation options or the variety of chronic health conditions affecting Americans, cycling can be a solution to many of our country’s problems.
While physicians often look to prescribe medication to treat illness, prevention — perhaps in the form of exercising, like cycling — might provide a better path to avoid chronic conditions like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and some forms of cancer in the first place. It may be time to rephrase the “apple a day keeps the doctor away,” saying to “a bike ride a day keeps the doctor away.”
WHAT ILLNESSES CAN CYCLING HELP?
If there is one thing COVID-19 has taught us, it’s the importance of a healthy and fully functioning immune system. While nobody suggests cycling can cure viruses, it has been shown to help boost the immune system, which can help your body fight off illness and may prevent severe complications that require prolonged hospitalizations. This study shows how cycling can help improve adaptive immunity — a key to fighting off new illnesses that enter the body.
“We know that cycling and exercise, in general, can maintain cardiovascular and brain health,” says Dr. Wes Clements, a physician at SteadyMd. “But by living an active lifestyle, it also makes it easier to fight off infections and illness.”
Our immune system isn’t the only thing daily cycling helps. One of the most significant crises facing the U.S. today is obesity. According to the CDC, the obesity rate in the U.S. was 42% in 2018, the most recent measure available, and the statistic continues to rise.
Since obesity can lead to other illnesses or diseases such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and some types of cancer, figuring out how to combat this issue should be at the top of our priority list. Fortunately studies show cycling can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels and promote weight loss.
Here are a few more diseases science shows can benefit from regular cycling:
- Improving motor symptoms in Parkinson’s patients
- Reducing the symptoms associated with depression and other mental illnesses
- Lowering the health risks associated with high stress levels
- Reducing mortality risks associated with cancer
LOOKING TO THE U.K. FOR INSPIRATION
Recently, the U.K. government pushed to make cycling a treatment option for patients, and doctors are allowed to prescribe cycling in the same way they would a pharmaceutical or a brace for a knee injury.
Physicians in Wales have already begun to prescribe cycling to combat obesity and cut down on the number of pharmaceuticals patients take for conditions that can be treated otherwise. Dr. Tom Porter, a physician in Cardiff, Wales, sees cycling as a way to not only to treat common illnesses, but also to solve environmental issues like air pollution that can lead to respiratory issues common in congested urban areas.
“Not only can cycling to work reduce your risk of death from heart disease by 52%, but it’s also a great way to get around the city without using your car, making it good for both you and the environment around you, and helping to keep the air clean for everyone while reducing carbon emissions,” says Porter.
While the program is in its beginning stages, the progress in the U.K. as it relates to cycling and treating health conditions can only be described as promising. Unlike pharmaceutical companies that tend to treat symptoms instead of getting to the root of the problem, a prescription for cycling can help improve heart health, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and reverse obesity in the general population.