By finding a balance that suits your capabilities and lifestyle, you can reap the long-term benefits of cycling for your overall health and well-being. Photo Courtesy: iStock
June 3 of every year marks World Bicycle Day. This day seeks to highlight the importance of bicycling to both, the environment and our overall wellbeing. It is one of the most reliable, affordable and easy forms of physical exercise offering multiple physical and mental health benefits. On World Bicycle Day 2023, we look at some of the common health benefits of cycling as shared by an expert.
Dr Ashish Khanijo, MBBS, MS-General, Surgery, DNB - Cardiothoracic Surgeon, Cardiologist, Ruby Hall Clinic, Pune says, "Health benefits with any kind of active exercise is fairly well known. However, there are a few of these exercises like cycling that are especially beneficial to the heart and the lungs. Cycling is a dynamic, aerobic, isotonic form of exercise. Not only this, but cycling also provides for active toning of the skeletal muscles."
Cycling is probably the easiest form of exercise that does not require any training. As children, most of us have cycled for hours feeling the excitement of riding. Why should we then stop now, especially when it offers great health benefits and helps us stay fit?
Khanijo says, "There is no specific age to start cycling. As long as there are no pathological reasons to not cycle, one can cycle daily to stay fit, mentally and physically. Depending on the age and stamina, one can cycle from a couple of kilometres to almost 20-25 kilometres for a period of 2 hours."
Cycling is a low-impact, accessible form of exercise that offers numerous physical health benefits. From cardiovascular fitness to strength and endurance, cycling can greatly contribute to one's physical health. Here are some key advantages:
Cycling is an excellent cardiovascular exercise that strengthens the heart and improves blood circulation. Regular cycling reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure.
Good for the joints
Unlike high-impact activities, cycling is gentle on the joints, making it suitable for individuals with conditions such as arthritis or joint injuries. It provides a low-stress workout that enhances mobility without putting excessive strain on the joints.
Muscle toning and strength
Cycling engages various muscle groups, including the legs, core, and glutes. It helps tone and strengthen these muscles, leading to improved overall body strength and stability.
Cycling is an effective calorie-burning exercise that aids in weight management. Regular cycling, combined with a balanced diet, can contribute to healthy weight loss or maintenance.
Aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, which can be fulfilled by cycling for 30 minutes on most days of the week. This level of activity helps improve cardiovascular health, maintain a healthy weight, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
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Incorporating intervals of higher-intensity cycling into your routine can provide additional cardiovascular benefits and enhance overall fitness. For example, alternating between periods of moderate cycling and short bursts of more intense pedalling can help improve aerobic capacity and increase calorie burn.
Besides physical benefits, cycling has a profound impact on mental health too:
Engaging in regular cycling helps reduce stress levels by releasing endorphins, often referred to as the "feel-good" hormones. This natural mood booster can alleviate anxiety, depression, and promote a sense of calm.
Cycling stimulates the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood. Increased serotonin levels can improve mood, combatting symptoms of depression and boosting overall mental wellness.
Regular cycling promotes increased blood flow to the brain, providing it with essential oxygen and nutrients. This improved circulation enhances cognitive function, memory retention, and overall mental acuity.
Stress relief and relaxation
Cycling outdoors allows individuals to immerse themselves in nature, promoting a sense of tranquillity and reducing mental fatigue. The rhythmic motion of cycling can be meditative, providing a much-needed break from the pressures of daily life.
There are a few things one must consider before starting out to yield positive outcomes:
Listen to your body
It is important to listen to your body's signals and adjust your cycling duration and intensity accordingly. If you experience excessive fatigue, muscle soreness, or joint pain, it may be a sign that you need to reduce your cycling duration or take rest for a few days.
Keep in mind that individual factors such as age, fitness level, underlying health conditions, and personal goals can influence the appropriate duration of daily cycling. Consulting with a healthcare professional or a certified fitness trainer can provide personalized guidance based on your specific needs and circumstances.
If you are new to cycling or have been inactive for some time, it's advisable to start slow and gradually increase your cycling duration and intensity over time. This approach allows your body to adapt and reduces the risk of injuries.
One should drink plenty of water and maintain a balance of electrolytes as cycling causes a lot of sweating leading to loss of water and salts from the body. Carrying a bottle of plain water, fresh lime water, or any juice is a good idea when cycling.
Khanijo says, "The primary goal is to make cycling a sustainable and enjoyable part of your routine. Strive for consistency rather than pushing yourself beyond the body's capacity. This may lead to burnout or injury. By finding a balance that suits your capabilities and lifestyle, you can reap the long-term benefits of cycling for your overall health and well-being."