The Top 5 Health Benefits of Cycling
Going for a bike ride isn’t just for kids anymore these days. More and more adults are dusting off their old bikes and heading out for a ride to take advantage of the amazing health benefits of cycling.
In fact, the number of regular cyclists in the US has increased by nearly 5 million people since 2014. And adults over the age of 24 are the main contributors to this rise in popularity.
Why? Because cycling is especially helpful for combating the problems that arise as you get older. From heart disease to general life expectancy, you can boost your health with something as simple and enjoyable as biking your favorite local trail or back road.
If you’re wondering how cycling can benefit your health, keep reading for our guide to the top 5 health benefits of cycling workouts.
1. Cycling Improves Cardiorespiratory Fitness
Cardiorespiratory fitness refers to how efficient your body is at transporting the oxygen you breathe to your muscles during a workout. Cyclists with good cardiorespiratory fitness can exercise longer and harder than athletes with poor cardiorespiratory health.
The cardiorespiratory system is vital for endurance cyclists who want to ride longer and beat the clock. People with good cardiorespiratory fitness are also less likely to suffer from:
- Heart disease
- Lung cancer
Low-fitness adults can improve cardiorespiratory fitness by 30% and medium- to high-fitness level adults can also see lower but still significant improvements. These same physical benefits of biking also extend to children.
In another study of both older and young adults, stationary cycling produced significant improvements in 3 tests used to measure cardiorespiratory endurance. The study also found that stationary cycling of 30 minutes, 5 times a week for 1 month improves leg muscle strength and speed.
2. Cycling Increases Life Expectancy
While improving your cardiorespiratory fitness is an amazing benefit all on its own, it also contributes to a person’s life expectancy. Life expectancy is the average number of years a person is expected to live. This factor is based on health and fitness levels among other factors.
But what you really need to know is that endurance cyclists increase their life expectancies for more years than any other exercise or sport.
In a case study of the effects of endurance, power, and team sports on life expectancy, Tour de France cyclists had significantly increased life expectancies as compared to non-athletes. Additionally, cyclists improved life spans by up to 8 years and this was almost two-fold the increase in life expectancy observed in other athletes. Endurance rowers came in a close second, but even competitive rowing only improves life expectancy by up to 6 years.
In the spirit of sharing both cycling benefits and disadvantages, you should know that some studies suggest inner-city cyclists experience a decrease in life expectancy that offsets the expected gain. To avoid losing those extra years you’ve tacked on, cycle on low-traffic roads, in the country, or on trails that don’t allow vehicles.
3. Cycling Decreases the Risk for Cancer and Cancer Mortality Rates
While a cure for cancer is still in the works, there are preventative measures people can take to reduce their risk. And people who have suffered or currently suffer from cancer can reduce their risk of mortality.
Sound like magic? Believe it or not, it’s endurance cycling that can help reduce the risk for cancer and/or the risk for cancer mortality.
In fact, you can reduce the risk of cancer-related mortality by up to 20% for every 1 hour you cycle per day. And when you increase your cycle-time to 100 minutes or more, you can reduce your risk by up to 40%.
Even more surprisingly, studies show that cyclists who bike at moderate-intensity for up to 1 hour per day can reduce the risk of colon cancer by 20%, or 45% for 1.5 hours of cycling. These studies suggest that percentage may grow even higher with 2 hours or more of cycling per day.
4. Cycling Benefits Cognitive Functioning
As you age, your brain starts to get smaller. This reduction in volume is responsible for age-related problems like poor memory, worsened muscle function, and difficulty paying attention.
If you’re a cyclist, though, you may experience the mental benefits of cycling, which include improved cognitive function as you age.
In a study of 100 older adults aged 50 to 83, 30-minutes of cycling performed at least 3 times per week helped participants improve their score on mental tests. Specifically, these tasks were the Stroop Task and the Letter Updating Task.
The Stroop Task tests how well an individual’s executive function is working. Executive function controls things like inhibition of inappropriate behavior, decision making, and attention. The part of the brain that controls executive function is also one of the first areas to show signs of aging.
Similarly, the Letter Updating Task evaluates how well a person’s working memory is functioning. A positive score on this task usually shows signs of higher intelligence and good reading comprehension.
Put together, cyclists’ improved scores on the Stroop and Letter Updating Tasks mean that they had longer attention spans, better decision making processes, high intelligence levels, and above-average reading comprehension. If you’re looking to improve one of these cognitive functions, maybe it’s time to dust off the old bike and hit the road.
5. Cycling Decreases the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) AKA heart disease is the most prevalent cause of death for both men and women in the US. According to the CDC, more than 600,000 people die of heart disease every year.
You may develop heart disease later in life if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or smoke tobacco products. Other risk factors include:
- Poor diet
CVD can be combated with exercise. Specifically, endurance exercises like cycling. It should be no wonder then that cycling for 3.5 hours or more every week lowers your risk of CVD by 20%.
As we saw earlier in this list, cardiorespiratory fitness improves with endurance exercises like cycling. That’s why cyclists also see a 15% reduction in the occurrence of heart attacks as compared to non-cyclists.
Yet another risk factor for heart disease is a sedentary lifestyle. A sedentary lifestyle consists of very little physical activity and comes with a plethora of health risks on its own, including obesity. That’s why the cycling benefits for weight loss are such a hot topic among cyclists.