Now that Spring has sprung – well, sort of – it’s time to get on your bike. Why? Not only is it the greenest form of transportation, it is quiet, cheap and you are not polluting the atmosphere. And cycling is a surprisingly healthy thing to do. Here are the 12 top reasons to clamber on and get pedalling:
1. LOSE WEIGHT
8mph on a road bike over relatively flat ground is a leisurely pace yet you’ll burn 236 to 372 calories per hour. They say that if you cycle 30 mins a day you can lose up to a stone in a year without dieting. It’s gentler than running – 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, get on a bike – most of your weight is taken by the saddle, so your skeleton doesn’t take a battering. Sports physiologists have found that the body’s metabolic rate – the efﬁciency with which it burns calories and fat – is not only raised during a ride, but for several hours afterwards.
2. PROTECT YOUR HEART
Cycling just 20 miles a week reduces your risk of heart disease to less than half that of those who take no exercise.
3. SHARPEN YOUR MENTAL FOCUS
With all the extra oxygen getting to the brain, neuro pathways are strengthened and renewed which gives you a sharper mental focus and protection against neurodegenerative diseases. After cycling, some researchers observed a 15% increase in mental and cognitive ability.
4. HELP ARTHRITIS
There is less strain on your joints if you cycle, rather than walking or running. When there is no impact and no weight bearing, your joints benefit greatly.
5. SMILE MORE
Smiling is good for the soul and good for you. I always find myself smiling when I am coasting down a hill on my bike with the wind in my hair (just like when I was a child!) Even if you’re miserable when you saddle up, cranking through the miles will lift your spirits. “Any mild-to-moderate exercise releases natural feel-good endorphins that help counter stress and make you happy,” explains Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation.
6. GET A BETTER NIGHT’S SLEEP
Stanford University School of Medicine researchers asked sedentary insomnia sufferers to cycle for 20-30 minutes every other day. The result? The time required for the insomniacs to fall asleep was reduced by half, and sleep time increased by almost an hour.
7. BEAT ILLNESS
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. And, 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. Finnish researchers discovered that cycling for half an hour a day could actually lower your risk of becoming a diabetic by as much as 40%.
8. LIVE LONGER
King’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.
9. HEALTHY FAMILY TIME
Cycling is an activity the whole family can do together – toddlers can go in a bike seat or tow along buggy, and because it’s kind to joints, there’s nothing to stop the grandparents joining in too. And if your dog isn’t too old, they can run alongside you as well. It’s also a great way to enjoy some quality time with your partner – as cycling releases feel good hormones you’ll have a warm feeling towards each other by the time you get home!
10. BETTER CREATIVITY
25 minutes of feel good aerobic exercise boosts creative thinking. It gives you breathing space away from the muddle and pressures of ‘real life’ and helps solve mental blocks, decision making and relieves stress.
11. IMPROVE YOUR LUNG POWER
No prizes for guessing that the lungs work considerably harder than usual when you ride. Regular cycling will help strengthen your cardiovascular system over time, enabling your heart and lungs to work more efﬁciently.
12. MAKE NEW FRIENDS
The social side of riding can do you as much good as the actual exercise. You get time to have long chats with existing friends. If you’d like to make new friends, check out the internet for cycling clubs in your area.
You never know, you might easily get addicted to the buzz of this gentle exercise and end up doing a bike ride for charity (will have to be 2022 as all places for 2021 have already been snapped up). The London to Brighton bike ride for example has raised over £40 million for the British Heart Foundation since 1980. So, not only is cycling good for you, if you decide to take on a challenge, it can be very beneficial for other people too.
If you fancy taking up cycling, it is important to buy or hire the right size bike – as I found out here