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the health benefits of cycling

The Health Benefits of Cycling

Are you thinking about taking up cycling, but are not sure if it’s good for you? Cycling has many health benefits from weight loss to mental health and time saving convenience if commuting by cycling.

When it comes to physical health, cycling can be a great activity. While cycling, one can burn from 300-1000 calories per hour depending on your intensity. With this calorie burning, you are also building lean muscle. Lean muscle compared to fat also burns more calories, so your resting metabolism will be higher.

Cycling is a whole body workout, but the lower extremities undergo the most demands. Quads (thigh muscle), gluts (buttock), and gastroc (calves) help with the down stroke of pedaling, while the hamstring can help with the upstroke, if pedaling efficiently. The core has to engage to stabilize and balance while cycling. The shoulders and upper extremities are more of an isometric contraction holding you in place. Cycling does have lower impact on the joints and less weight bearing than running or more plyometric type exercises, which allows people of all fitness levels or those recovering from an injury to start cycling safely.

Stationary bikes can also be very beneficial and safe for someone who is just starting  to exercise or recovering from an injury. Stationary cycling allows people to go at a slower pace if needed and not worry about losing balance, control, or crashing.  Stationary cycling can be great for restoring range of motion in the hip, knee, or ankle after an injury while still getting some cardiovascular exercise.

Cycling has huge health benefits for your cardiovascular system and lung capacity. Cycling increases the heart rate and blood flow throughout the body. This will improve cardiac function with training and lower your resting heart rate. Lung capacity and function also improves with cycling. Pt also may notice a boost in brain function with cycling and cardiovascular exercise. Increased heart rate also brings more blood flow to the brain. Exercise also releases endorphins that help mood, anxiety, and stress. Those that cycle or other cardiovascular exercise also tend to sleep better. As they sleep better, all aspects of life are benefited.

Now that you know some of the health benefits of cycling, some may ask how much should I cycle? This is depends on your goals, intensity, and current fitness level. People who are just getting started with cycling or cardiovascular exercise should take it slowly and build up gradually. This could even be as few as 15-20 minutes when initially starting, or if recovering from an injury, or illness. As your tolerance improves and 15-20 minutes becomes easy, then increase your time by 5-10 minutes.  If you already have a good base level of fitness and are riding at higher intensities, it is recommended to take 1-2 days off per week to allow the body to rest and recover. Most experts say 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise per week or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise is recommend for cardiovascular health. If you are using your bike to commute, it may depend on the length of your commute and intensity as to how often you cycle or how many days off you need. If your commute is only a few miles and you’re riding at a comfortable pace, this is something that can be done daily.

Bicycle commuting can be a great way to save time and get some exercise. Bicycle commuting often can be faster than commuting by public transportation or car depending on traffic, public transit routes, and commuting distance. Bike commuting takes out the wait time of trains and buses, while possibly getting you to work in a more direct route. If traffic is an issue, often bike commuters can zip through a bike lane passing cars backed up at traffic lights. Not only can you save time while commuting, one can save time from having to exercise later.

Here are a few things to think about before heading out on a bike ride from basic bike maintenance, proper clothing, and bike fit. First, make sure your bike tires are properly inflated and spinning freely when tested. Check your brakes to make sure they are working properly. Lights and reflectors are important, especially if riding early in morning or dusk, as well as high traffic areas. Frequently cleaning your bike chain and gearing is important for smooth shifting and preventing mechanical problems.  A properly fitting helmet is extremely important to wear at all times while cycling. Check the helmet frequently, especially if you have dropped it, for cracks or dents. Sunglasses or clear lenses can be very beneficial for eye comfort and safety. Bike clothing, especially quality bike shorts with padding, can make or break a bike ride. If you are wearing a standard athletic shoe, not a bike specific shoe, make sure shoe laces are tight tucked into the shoe so they do not go into the bike crank or wheel. As for bike fit, the saddle height should be adjusted so that on the down stroke of pedaling the knee should have a 30-40 degree bend (slight bend). You should be able to reach the handle bars, breaks, and gears with ease and be able to maintain a comfortable posture.

If you are unsure of your bike fit, we can help you here at Therapydia. We have physical therapists trained in bike fitting that can help you adjust your bike so that you are comfortable and efficient while preventing injuries.

Jessica Jones

Physical Therapist

Jessica recently moved to Seattle from Boston, MA and is excited to join the Therapydia team. Her treatment experience includes orthopedics, sports medicine, pediatrics, and vestibular therapy. Jessica received her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Northeastern University in Boston, MA in 2016. She has completed the Pediatric Physical Therapy Residency at Boston Children’s Hospital and is in the process of completing a Comprehensive Vestibular Rehabilitation certification. Jessica believes in empowering and inspiring patients to take control of their health through education, movement, and exercise. She enjoys treating patients of all ages and levels while utilizing soft tissue techniques, neuromuscular re-education, balance training as well as therapeutic exercise. In her free time, Jessica enjoys yoga, dancing, kayaking, and hiking with her dog!


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