5 health benefits of cycling
Even at a moderate pace, cycling helps you get the recommended physical activity you need to reduce your risk for disease.
If you enjoyed cycling when you were younger, now could be a great time to revive your passion, says Whittney Thoman, a senior 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 by yourself,” Thoman says. "So it fits with social distancing guidelines."
And it's accessible to most people because you can easily do it at your own pace. “The intensity of the exercise depends on the effort you put in,” Thoman says.
Even at a moderate pace, cycling helps you get the recommended physical activity you need to reduce your risk for disease. 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,” Thoman says.
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.
In addition to cycling, try to include resistance training as part of your exercise routine at least twice a week. Here are some easy strength training exercises you can do at home.
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, Thoman 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.
“The more you are active, the more you decrease your risk for chronic diseases, including cancer,” says Thoman.
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This article was last updated on April 15, 2020.
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 Thoman. This is an important aspect of balance. “As far as maintaining or improving your proprioception, if you don’t practice it, it will decline.”
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 Thoman. 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.