Getting on your bike regularly not only takes you where you want to go, it also protects you against a wide range of illnesses. It makes you feel fitter, better, and healthier.
Everyday cycling, where the exercise leaves you breathing heavily, not out of breath, is an effective and enjoyable form of aerobic exercise. This is the type of exercise that is most effective for promoting and sustaining good health.
For example, cycling reduces the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes.
Cycling and weight management. Cycling can be part of any exercise programme to lose weight, because it burns energy supplied by a chocolate bar in an hour [300 calories]. A 15-minute bike ride to-and-from work five times a week burns off the equivalent of five kg of fat in a year. This kind of cycling pattern also meets the experts' target on exercise: that we should take part in some mild-to-moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes, five times a week.
Cycling improves fitness. A study found that "even a small amount of cycling can lead to significant gains in fitness." The study also found that aerobic fitness was upped by 11 per cent after just six weeks of cycling "short distances" four times a week. Cycling to the equivalent of 8-10 km to-and-from work a day increases aerobic benefit by 17 per cent.
Cycling helps maintain strength and co-ordination. There can also be indirect benefits of cycling in terms of reducing injuries from falls, which can be seriously disabling, especially in older people. The strength and co-ordination that regular cycling brings makes falls less likely. Physically active older people, who cycle their way to fitness, have much reduced rates of hip fracture.
Cycling improves your mood. Cycling can have positive effects on how we feel too. Moderate cycling exercise has been found to reduce depression and stress, and improve mood and self-esteem. It has also been found to relieve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.
According to the British Heart Foundation, cycling at least 40 km per week reduces the risk of coronary heart disease to less than half that for non-cyclists. It is also suggested that cycling raises the speed of your metabolism for hours afterwards, so your body continues to burn calories even after exercise.
Anyone with heart disease, or other conditions that affect their activity should, of course, consult their physician/therapist before starting any exercise programme, including cycling.
Those of all body shapes, and all but with the most extreme body weights, can ride a bike, all the same.
What sets cycling apart from most other forms of exercise is how well it fits into our busy, modern lifestyles. Apart from the bicycle itself [and, a recommended protective helmet] no other equipment is needed, no special time needs to be set, and no special clothes are necessary. Instead of spending time stuck in a car, or bus, if you spend it on the bike, there is no need to find extra time for exercise.
It's easy riding a bike. You simply start to use a bike when you would, otherwise, have gone by car, bus, train, or on foot. How much you ride depends on you, your fitness and your lifestyle.
New cyclists could start off by using the bike to pop a few hundred yards down the road to the shop, or the post office, and gradually increase the distance they cover. In a few weeks aerobic fitness will have improved, and you will be able to ride for miles without feeling anything more than a little puffed out.
There is still some argument, but there is increasing evidence that cycle helmets can reduce the number and severity of head injuries in cyclists. To be any good at all the helmet must be worn correctly and be close-fitting without being pushed to the back of the head.
Keep at it
Most cyclists are "utility" cyclists. The bike is a way of getting from A to B, and getting some exercise is an added bonus. Nearly three-quarters of journeys people make are of five km or less, and this could be achieved by most people. On reasonably flat ground, you will be able to cover at least 5-6 km in half-an-hour, riding a bicycle - this is faster than cars in many towns and cities.
Those bitten by the bike bug may improve their fitness and may make long rides to work, or also choose to go leisure cycling where they cover 40-50 km a day.
Fitter individuals with a taste for adventure may choose to try mountain biking, speeding down specially made trails on the side of hills, leaping over dips and jumping over obstacles.
The more active cyclists, the more likely they are to increase their health benefits. In general, the more active an individual is, the healthier they are. But, whichever form of cycling you choose to pursue, remember to have fun while you're doing it.
As you are whizzing past drivers stuck in traffic, you can enjoy the fact that not only are you getting to your destination quickly, but you are getting fit at the same time.
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