Taking proactive steps to be healthy is a cornerstone of good wellbeing. Getting regular exercise is a strong component of physical, mental, and emotional health and riding a bike is one of the best ways to help achieve all these. While regular exercise should not be considered a catch-all solution to physical and emotional ailments, it can be a great tool to augment a broader plan for your health. Because of its many benefits, cycling is an activity that should be considered as part of a well-rounded health regimen. More than just a great way to get around, there are many potential health benefits to cycling for fitness.
While it may be exciting to try to ride as fast as pro cyclists, the physical benefits of cycling aren’t exclusive to those trying to qualify for this year’s Tour de France. In fact, one of the most appealing aspects of cycling for fitness is that it is accessible for all levels of riders; even the slowest cyclist will still gain the physical benefits of exercise. Cycling for as little as 30 minutes a day is associated with:
- Resistance to disease: Regular exercise is associated with decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, lung disease, and high blood pressure.
- Weight management: Studies show that we should be expending about 2,000 calories through exercise each week, which is less than 30 minutes of cycling each day. A half hour bike ride each day is also associated with weight loss in excess of 10 pounds yearly.
- Improved stamina: Regular cycling can help improve cardiovascular strength as well as improved oxygen intake.
Cycling also provides a full-body workout that involves all major muscle groups while minimizing impact on joints, making it a great alternative to activities like running. Its relatively low strain also makes cycling a good choice for many that are rehabilitating an injury.
Another major reason to consider cycling for health is that it is widely accessible to many groups. For someone that is already athletic, cycling can be a great cross-training activity, improving both cardio endurance as well as balance. That improved balance is another benefit to seniors, which can be helpful in preventing falls resulting in injury.
Cycling can also be an accessible form of exercise for people with injuries or physical disabilities that make other exercises difficult or impossible. The length and intensity of a ride can also be gradually changed to accommodate our own constantly changing abilities while still providing a wonderful health benefit.
Studies have repeatedly shown that regular exercise is associated with improved mental and emotional wellbeing and cycling is one way of attaining that improvement. Simply being outside is associated with improvements in self-reported wellbeing and focus, as well as reduction of stress-related hormones like cortisol, and adding exercise further increases these benefits. Potential benefits include:
- Improvement in anxiety and depression: Studies have shown that regular exercise such as cycling can help give an overall improvement to mood, as well as reducing feelings of anxiety and depression. Being in sunlight will also expose you to an extra dose of vitamin D, which is also linked to improvement in mild depression and seasonal affective disorder.
- Sleep: Regular exercise also tends to improve quality and quantity of sleep, which is strongly linked to improvement in mood, as well as cognition and awareness.
- Self esteem island confidence: Pairing cycling with a series of short and long term goals can help increase self esteem as you experience the satisfaction of achieving those goals. The act of learning and mastering a new skill can also provide added levels of confidence.
Cycling can also serve as a form of social support by finding a riding partner or looking for a local cycling club. Our social circles are an important component of maintaining a healthy outlook. Regular socialization is associated with reduction in conditions such as anxiety, loneliness, and dementia. Spending time with people whose company we enjoy is another way of increasing levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, which help us improve our feeling of wellbeing. The next time you feel like going for a ride, make sure you phone a friend first because you’ll both feel better than if you’d gone out alone! And if you’re in Chicago, you can join in on a city-wide bike event such as Bike The Drive!
I want to get into cycling, where should I start?
As an exercise, cycling is one of the easiest to get into; there is a low barrier for entry, a used or entry-level bike can be relatively inexpensive, and most of us learned how to ride when we were children. Buying a bike can be a daunting process, but your local bike shop is able to provide you with the help and advice you need to get started. There are many different kinds of bikes for the different disciplines of cycling, so make sure to consider if you have any fitness goals or health conditions that might influence the kind of bike you would like to ride.’
A crucial part of adopting healthy habits is developing consistency, and enjoying what you are doing is one of the best ways to encourage forming a new healthy habit. Looking forward to cycling is one of the best ways to make it a habit you can stick to because you’ll always feel like doing it! A great way to reinforce this attitude is by asking your local bike shop about fitting your bike to your body. We each have unique needs when it comes to fit, so a brand new bike shouldn’t be expected to be exactly perfect without a little additional adjustment. This is often as basic as performing some simple adjustments or can be as in-depth as replacing parts such as saddles and handlebars to fit your body more individually. You might also look at some accessories like gel or foam seat covers, padded bike shorts, and soft handlebar grips to increase your comfort as you ride.
Make sure to schedule regular maintenance for your bike as well; you don’t want to be worrying about your ride when your mind should be clear. It’s also a good idea to occasionally check in with the experts at your local bike shop from time to time. If your health, goals, or interests change, a bike expert can help ensure that you always have the right equipment to fit your needs.
The Difference Between Indoor and Outdoor Cycling
The most important thing about riding a bike for your health is regular, consistent, and moderate activity. Raising your heart rate and using your muscles doesn’t necessarily mean you must ride a bike indoors or outdoors. There are some additional benefits to spending time outside, but consistency is more important than location so if the weather or season doesn’t allow for a ride outdoors, riding a stationary bike indoors is better than not riding at all. Since a stationary bike won’t always engage your balance as well as a regular bike it’s a good idea to augment your routine with some balance-focused activities like yoga or pilates.
Both indoor and outdoor cycling help in replacing sedentary time with active time. However, outdoor cycling also enjoys great utility as a method of transport. If it is possible for you, switching your commute by car for a bike ride replaces sedentary time with exercise, thereby making the most of your time. Of course, this isn’t practical for everyone but cycling doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. You might be able to ride and take public transit, or perhaps only commute once or twice a week by bike. You can take a trip by bike when running errands or going to social events. Going to the gym by bike is a very smart approach as well, after all, you’ve already done your cardio! In addition to the health benefits received by exercising and spending less time around the air pollution from cars, just think about all the money you’ll save on gas, insurance, maintenance, and more.
Rent a bike and see for yourself!
If you don’t already have a bike or perhaps you’d like to try out a different kind of bike, renting a bike from Bobby’s Bike Hike is a great way to get your exercise while enjoying the beauty of Chicago’s lakefront, parks, and tree-lined boulevards. Our expert staff will help you choose what kind of bike is the best fit for your needs and answer any questions you may have.
If you already have a bike in need of a little TLC, call Bobby’s to schedule your annual bike maintenance, after all — when you take care of your bike it’ll take care of you.
If you’d like to get your exercise by blending the physical with the social, be sure to look into a Chicago bike tour with Bobby’s Bike Hike. Our Ultimate City Tour of Chicago and Lakefront Neighborhoods Tour are both fun, informative, and healthy ways to experience all the best of Chicago.
Cycling is more than just fun, it can be a fantastic way to ensure our physical and mental health are as well taken care of as possible for as long as possible.