When it comes to exercise, experts advise picking an activity that you enjoy and will stick with over time.
If you enjoyed cycling when you were younger, it may be a good exercise choice as an adult, says Allica Austin, exercise physiologist in MD Anderson’s Cancer Prevention Center. You don’t need an expensive bike, special clothes or a high degree of fitness to enjoy riding a bike.
“Cycling is something that you can do in a group, as a family event, and you can also do it solo,” Austin says. “The intensity depends on the effort you put in.”
Even at a moderate pace, cycling helps you get the recommended physical activity you need to reduce your risk for cancer. It offers all the advantages of aerobic activity, with some extra health perks as well.
Cycling is easy on the joints
For anyone with back pain, arthritis or damaged joints in the lower body, cycling may be a good choice. Most of your body weight is supported by the seat, so it’s low-impact. For some, cycling may even improve joint health.
“Cycling strengthens the muscles around the joint, which helps support the knee,” Austin says. “I have patients that say they have to cycle regularly. They swear that it helps their joints during other activities.”
If you have back or joint problems, talk to your doctor to see if cycling could be beneficial to you.
Cycling builds muscle
Cycling is considered aerobic exercise, not resistance training. But the effort required to put your bike in motion will improve the overall function of your lower body. And keeping a bike upright and moving engages muscles throughout your body, including your upper body and core.
“Any time you challenge your muscles you build muscle,” Austin says. In addition to cycling, make sure you include resistance training as part of your weekly exercise routine. She recommends you follow guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine.
Cycling can help you maintain a healthy weight
Cycling burns calories, which can help you stay lean. Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for several cancers, including postmenopausal breast and colorectal cancers.
And while you can’t target weight loss in a specific area, Austin says the way to cut down on pounds around the waist area, where it’s most likely to hurt your health, is to get active.
“Patients ask me all the time, ‘What’s the best way I can reduce my waist line?’ I always say cardio. Brisk walking, running, cycling,” says Austin. “The more you are active, the more you decrease your risk for chronic diseases, including cancer.”
Cycling improves your proprioception and your balance
Think of your bike as an extension of your body. Keeping it upright calls for some balance. But did you know that riding a bike can actually help improve your balance?
Cycling requires proprioception, or “knowing where your body is in space,” says Austin. This is an important aspect of balance. “As far as maintaining or improving your proprioception, if you don’t engage it, it will decline,” says Austin.
Why does balance matter? As we age, balance can worsen, leading to falls, injuries and a decline in physical activity. To stay active, we need to maintain our balancing skills.
Cycling relieves stress
Chronic stress can have big health impacts. But physical activities like cycling can help reduce daily stress.
“Any time you exercise, it releases endorphins,” says Austin. Endorphins can help you feel better when you are under stress.
And, exercising outdoors has added benefits. “When you exercise outside, you release serotonin in addition to endorphins. This helps manage stress hormones, which could help decreases your risk for cancer,” she says.
Start slow and have fun
If you are just starting out, or getting back on a bike for the first time in a while, start slowly and be sure to brush up on bike basics, like the rules of the road and simple bike maintenance. And remember to stay safe. Wear a helmet and apply sunscreen before hitting the road or trail.
No matter what activity you choose, aim to get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise each week to reduce your cancer risk.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 877-632-6789.