If you can stay upright, cycling has spectacular health benefits. It can protect you from stroke, heart disease, depression, diabetes and obesity. Unlike some forms of exercise, it’s also fun and useful, as it can get you and your stuff from A to B.
Lycra is not required, and neither is the latest, greatest bike. Cycling is for almost everyone. It’s something most of us do as kids, and getting back on a bike is the easiest way to get back to that wonderful childhood feeling of flying under your own steam.
A beautiful set of numbers
A major literature review of the health benefits of cycling published in Scandinavia showed a clear positive relationship between cycling and cardio-respiratory fitness in young people, and a strong inverse relationship between commuter cycling and all-case mortality, cancer mortality and cancer morbidity in middle-aged to elderly people.
As an aerobic exercise, cycling helps the heart, blood vessels and lungs. It’s also fantastic for your brain.
Move it or lose it
Lots of major health issues are related to being too sedentary, and one of the weird contradictions of the modern world is that busy people often have trouble being active enough. Cycling is a great way to help with this, whether you ride to work or just down to the shops.
You can ride a bike on your own or in a group. Cyclists enjoy decreased stress levels, improved joint mobility, strengthened bones, decreased body fat levels and improved muscle strength and flexibility.
Cycling is a low impact sport (unlike running), inexpensive (unlike gym memberships) and as intense or mild as you want it to be. Electric assistance and gearing makes it possible to control exactly how much energy you’re putting in, no matter how hilly it is where you are.
If you commute on a bike, cycling is also very environmentally friendly, which helps everyone’s health, but the individual benefits are dramatic.
A major British study found that despite the risks of cycling in urban areas, cycle commuters literally lived longer than everyone else.
While Australia is lagging behind the rest of the world in cycling infrastructure, we’re slowly starting to catch up. More bike paths are appearing all over the country as councils and health departments catch on to the benefits.
In many urban places it’s quicker and cheaper to get where you’re going on a bike than any other way.
Weighing the benefits
If you want to get fit or lose weight, a person cycling burns on average about 1200 kilojoules (300 calories) an hour. A half hour bike ride every year will burn nearly five kilograms of fat over a year.
And it’s a lot more fun than sitting on a machine in the gym!