Benefits of Bicycle Riding
When the totality of human innovation is considered no truly objective person could put up much of an argument against the notion that the bicycle is one of our greatest inventions. And while it’s no longer called the “velocipede” and it has been replaced as the principal means of transportation in recent years in place like China it remains nonetheless incredibly popular and is a major part of local cultures from Hanoi to Amsterdam to JoBerg to South Beach. Like the light bulb that came of age during roughly the same period the bicycle was transformative technology that affected society at virtually every level from economic to artistic. Today some 160 million bicycles are sold worldwide every year and in many cities of the world the bicycle has pushed back against the onslaught of the internal combustion engine with an ever increasing number of bicycle lanes being carved out of roadways great and small. As the effects of climate change have become ever more apparent the environmental benefits of the bicycle have garnered renewed interest as well. Likewise, as more and more people have suffered the ravages of junk food diets combined with sedentary professional lives the myriad health benefits of bicycle riding have also gained newfound appreciation and it’s those benefits we’re going to look at in this article. So without further ado here are our 23 benefits of bicycle riding.
While some debate whether they should get a 4 or 5 liter engine on their new gas-guzzling SUV the truly enlightened debate whether their new bicycle should have disc or rim brakes and whether they’ll bicycle to work only during fair weather or go all-in and become a 4 season cyclist. While they busy themselves with such considerations we present for your reading pleasure 23 benefits of bike riding just in case you needed any more convincing regarding the positive attributes of the bicycle.
1) Cycling Helps You Get in Shape – Perhaps the most compelling reason to ride a bicycle from a personal perspective is the fact that doing so can help you lose excess weight and improve your cardiovascular health. The bicycle wasn’t invented as a physical fitness tool but it has turned out to be one of the greatest, most efficient and most cost effective ways known to man to get in shape and stay that way. When it comes to weight loss cycling can burn from 400 to 1000 calories per hour, depending on the intensity of your effort as well as your weight and certain environmental conditions like temperature. If you eat well and make cycling a regular part of your life there is little doubt you will see a measurable difference in the way you look and feel.
2) Cycling Improves Respiratory Health – We’re going to stay on the direct health benefits of bicycling for another minute or two simply because they’re so compelling. As the developed world has moved from agricultural to industrial to service-oriented people have become more sedentary, with ever increasing numbers working long hours in front of the computer screen. Such an immobile lifestyle not only promotes weight gain and muscle loss but also decreased respiratory health as well. We need to stay active and breathe deeply from time to time to keep our lungs clear and improve lung capacity. Healthy lungs help prevent a panoply of respiratory conditions including asthma and allergies and make for a more effective transfer of oxygen to both the muscles and the brain. Recent studies also suggest that by riding a bike you may actually decrease your exposure to harmful air pollutants many of which are known to cause asthma or be carcinogenic.
3) Cycling Reduces Your Risk of Cancer and Heart Disease – Sedentary lifestyles are a major contributing factor to heart disease and cancer. Conversely, riding a bicycle can actually reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and help keep some cancers at bay. Think of it this way: your heart is a muscle and, like any muscle, if you don’t exercise it it becomes weak and prone to failure. It’s also a pump and if you don’t perform regular maintenance on it the associated plumbing (i.e. the arteries and veins) will become clogged and breakdown. Cycling raises your heart rate which means your heart muscle is getting the exercise it needs. This elevated heart rate also pushes more blood through the system which helps keep the plumbing clear. In addition recent studies indicate that cycling can cut the risk of developing cancer by nearly 50%. And you don’t have to be a Tour de France champion to enjoy these health benefits. Just riding your bike to work each day will do the trick.
4) Riding Your Bicycle Improves Mental Acuity – When you exercise your heart muscle by riding your bicycle all that blood surging through your veins is carrying oxygen it’s picking up in the lungs, which are also getting a good workout. That oxygen rich blood is then distributed to your brain where it helps you become more alert and mentally sharp. The difference in mental acuity people experience after arriving at work on their bike as opposed to driving their car is often startling. But the benefits for your brain don’t stop there. Riding a bike can also go a long way toward ensuring you maintain an upbeat mood throughout the day. That’s because it’s not just oxygen that’s delivered to the brain when you exercise, endorphins and adrenalin levels also become elevated and these have a direct effect on mood as well as your overall outlook. It’s a win-win situation all the way around.
5) Riding Your Bicycle is Low Impact Exercise – Running is a wonderfully effective way to get in shape, but it’s also what’s known as a “high impact” form of exercise. Running is the cause of many lower body injuries due to the stress put on muscles, bones and joints by the feet constantly pounding into the ground. Ankle, knee and hip injuries are common in runners, particularly older runners and these injuries can sideline a person for weeks, months and in some cases permanently. Bicycling by contrast is the ultimate low impact form of exercise. The feet never come in direct contact with the ground while cycling, there’s just the smooth, even pressure applied to the pedals as they go around. Readily available statistics show that runners typically incur two or even three times as many lower body injuries as cyclists and when age is taken into consideration the disparity is even more pronounced.
6) Cycling Can Save the Planet – Let’s take a step back from purely physical considerations for a few minutes and look at the big picture. One has to be a true flat-earther not to acknowledge that the world is undergoing dramatic changes to its climate. All the science points to human activities being a major cause of this phenomenon and yet every day more and larger fossil fuel powered vehicles clog more and larger roadways worldwide. If the greenhouse gas genie is ever going to be put back in the bottle countless people worldwide will each have to make an individual decision to care. Leaving the car home and taking the bicycle to work is one important step we can each take to putting the human race on a path toward sustainability and making sure we leave our grandkids a world every bit as beautiful as the one we grew up in.
7) Enhance Your Immune System – Now that we understand how riding a bicycle can help save mother earth it’s time to turn the spotlight back on the more personal benefits of bike riding: like strengthening your immune system. It’s long been established scientific fact that people in good physical condition are less prone to illness and disease then those who allow their condition to deteriorate, either through weight gain or smoking or living a sedentary life or all of the above. One of the reasons for this increased resistance is that exercise such as bike riding has the ability to increase the production of important proteins while also increasing the number and effectiveness of white blood cells; the body’s first responders.
8) Transcend the Common Cold – Riding the bike also helps you avoid illness in another more direct way by keeping you out of those crowded commuter trains and buses during cold and flu season when everyone is sneezing and coughing on each other. And one more thing: as a person’s mental state has been shown to have a direct influence on their sense of physical well-being the positive effects on mood and outlook discussed in point #4 above are essential in fighting off or bouncing back from any type of physical malady, including the cold.
9) Riding Your Bike Saves Time – Who hasn’t sat in a traffic jam and watched the bicycles slide by them and disappear in the distance? Or sat on the bus and had a similar experience? Or emerged onto the street after being manhandled on the overcrowded subway just to see the cyclists pedaling past not a care in the world? The fact is that in almost every large city on earth you’ll get to work faster if you ride a bike than if you take the car, the bus and in some cases the subway as well. Not only that but you’ll arrive more alert, more upbeat and more ready to go. So the choice is yours: join your fellow commuters in the jam, or sleep longer, leave those walking shoes in the hallway, bypass the gridlock, and arrive in a great mood by taking your bicycle. Hmmm… that’s a tough one…
10) Riding Your Bike Saves Money – All the time you’re sitting in gridlock your car is burning gas (average price as of this writing nearly $2.50 per gallon). Once you reach your destination, unless you’re an exec with a reserved parking space, you’re going to pay for parking (average price for a big city around $30 per day). If you put your car on the street and overstay at the meter you’re in for a hefty fine (typically about $25) and if someone sideswipes you in a fit of road rage brought on by the endless gridlock you’ll be shelling big bucks because the deductible won’t cover it ($$$). Driving it to work is even more expensive. Taking your bicycle however won’t cost you a thing. No tank to fill, no parking to pay for, no meter maids to deal with and no duals to the death with other drivers whose nerves have been frayed to the breaking point. You’ll just need a solid lock for security and a helmet for safety, along with a pair of lights.
11) Cycling Helps You Make More Money – It’s a fact that workers who are more mentally aware, more physically fit, who take fewer sick days and who have a more positive outlook are more productive. They get the job done which gets the attention of the bean counters and HR which leads to greater responsibility and ultimately better compensation. It’s the early bird that gets the worm after all. Not the bird stuck in gridlock. So if you want to increase your market value and earning potential leave the car in the garage and invest in a bicycle.
12) Riding Your Bike Helps Build Muscles – Riding your bike isn’t just good for your brain, heart, lungs, attitude, outlook, immune system, earning power and mother earth, it also helps you lose weight and replace fat with muscle. That’s because cycling is not just a great cardio workout it’s also first-class resistance training. You’ll develop better tone in all your muscles but particularly in the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and calf muscles. You can also help your muscle-bulding abilities by wearing some decent compression socks, which’ll help with blood flow while you’re in full flow. Sure you’re not going to magically transform into FloJo simply by riding your bike a few times a week but you will notice a definite change in muscle shape and tone particularly in muscles from the waist down, which leads us to our next point…
13) Cycling Can Improve Your Sex Life – It’s about time we talked about what’s really important isn’t it? And we don’t mean something as prosaic as money or saving the planet. We’re talking s-e-x. That’s right. Cycling can help ramp up both your sex appeal (see the above point about toning those glutes and leg muscles) and your bedroom performance and that’s not only good for your soul’s happy place it’s also good for your life expectancy. People who engage in regular sex throughout their life typically live several years longer than their sex averse friends and neighbors. But how can two wheels and a metal frame turn you into a duvet virtuoso? Turns out that cycling actually works all of the muscle groups necessary for sensational sex. Ergo the more you ride your bike the more vigorous you’ll be and the better you’re likely to perform when the time comes.
14) Riding Your Bike will Help You Sleep Better – Proper sleep is essential to the maintenance of good health and few things will help you sleep better than riding your bike regularly. This is especially true for those in middle age who tend to fall victim to sleep disorders associated with increased levels of professional and family anxiety as well as weight gain, money problems and an array of other stress inducers. It’s also true for just about anyone of any age who has experienced a drop off in their overall level of fitness. Enter the bicycle. Getting out on the bike on a regular basis helps work off the stress and tire you out so you can get a proper night’s sleep. It’s not rocket science: ride bike, get tired, sleep well. Any questions?
15) Cycling Allows You to Enjoy Your Snacks – If you’re mostly sedentary you can pretty much feel the waistline expanding and the arteries clogging up a bit more every time you indulge in a bag of potato chips. This doesn’t have to be a permanent state of affairs however. If you ride a bicycle on a regular basis you should burn off enough calories to enable you to indulge in a guilty little pleasure from time to time and experience only the pleasure and not the guilt. In addition, should you be the sort that really sinks themselves into the whole bike-riding milieu and you get to the point where you’re riding competitively you’ll actually have sound physiological reasons for enjoying a bag of chips or two in the days before a big event. So get out there and ride so you can get out there and snack.
16) Cycling Lets You Ramp Up Your Social Life – Bicycle enthusiasts tend to be a pretty sociable lot. They’re always congregating around interesting places and chatting about their lives and interests. In fact if you’ve been looking for ways to expand your social circle that don’t entail blind dates arranged through websites known as breeding grounds for serial killers joining a bike club is a great way to do so. Most bike clubs have weekend runs where they set out en masse along a pre-arranged route designed to provide both maximum enjoyment and moderate exercise. Even if there aren’t any existing bike clubs in your town you can always take the initiative and create one. You’ll not only make lots of new friends but you’ll become known far and wide as a pioneer of green society.
17) Cycling is Great Cross-Training – It doesn’t matter what sport you’re involved in (with the possible exception of Sumo Wrestling) bicycling will aid you in your training efforts. Whether you need to improve your stamina on the soccer pitch, become a better basketball player or even need help increasing your endurance in the swimming pool cycling can help. If you go into the equipment room associated with any professional sports team in just about any stadium in the world you’ll see top athletes doing long hard miles on the stationary bike. It’s a standard part of the professional athlete’s routine and that by itself should tell you all you need to know about the cross-training value of bike riding.
18) Cycling Improves Your Sense of Direction – Okay this one isn’t so obvious but it’s true nonetheless. The more time we spend in cars leaning on our GPS to direct us to our destination the more we lose touch with finding our way in the real world. Bicycling can reverse this slide. You’ll learn how to navigate using both natural and manmade landmarks, how to tell which way you’re going based on the angle of the sun and maybe even – shock of shocks – how to read a real paper map. The more familiar you are with the world you live in the more you feel a part of it, and not just like some stranger passing through.
19) Cycling Helps Improve Coordination – Cycling, especially in the city or on mountain bike trails, not only helps you develop a leaner more toned physique it also helps you develop and sharpen your physical coordination as well as reaction times and balance. All these things help you feel more confident and comfortable in your own skin and will pay dividends in unexpected ways. One of the most obvious harkens back to our point about bike riding being great cross-training. Whether you’re a running back on the college football team or a tennis player looking to ramp up their
game increased physical coordination will provide the boost you’re looking for.
20) Riding Your Bike Helps Boost Your Metabolism – The metabolic processes are those internal mechanisms that deal with the processing of food and its conversion into useful energy. In people who live sedentary lifestyles the metabolism often becomes depressed and the processing of food becomes inefficient resulting in weight gain and low energy. By riding your bike on a regular basis you can help boost your metabolism and this will produce a cascade of positive effects throughout your system. You’ll get more energy out of less food. You’ll process the food you do eat faster and more efficiently and you’ll lose weight and keep it off.
21) Cycling Gives You a Way to Help Others – If you’ve always wanted to find a way to give something back but your efforts were stymied, get yourself a bike and start helping out! Participating in a charity bike ride is a great way to raise funds for worthy causes. At the same time you’ll be helping out that worthiest of causes, your own, by getting and staying in good shape. If there are no charity bike events in your community start one yourself. It’s a great way to get involved, meet new friends and raise money for a worthy cause at the same time.
22) Embrace Adventure with Cycling – Ever wanted to participate in an epic adventure but you didn’t think it was in the cards for you? Well, think again. Once you get comfortable on your bike and your overall physical conditioning improves you can think about setting your sights on the horizon and joining the adventurers club. What are we talking about? A cross-country bike trip of course! You don’t know what adventure is until you set out for parts unknown on a bike laden with the equipment that will enable your life for the coming days and weeks. As family, friends and neighbors see you off you’ll get a whiff of the rarified air breathed by the hardiest among us and as the days pass your experiences will create memories that last a lifetime. So what are you
waiting for? Every generation needs a Lewis and Clark!
23) Cycling will Help You Live Longer – As we approach the end of our tour through the many benefits of bike riding we come to the maybe the greatest benefit of all: you’ll live longer. There are myriad reasons for this beginning with increased cardiovascular health and continuing on through a more robust sex life, increased musculature, a more positive overall outlook, an enhanced immune system, a higher degree of respiratory health and so on and so on. Multiple studies have shown over the years that people who ride bicycles on a regular basis live longer than those who don’t. Even if you only bike for about an hour a week it can add as much as 6 months to your life. Not only that, but the years you do have will be more enjoyable because you’ll be better able to fully participate in your life.
Few of man’s inventions can be said to have as many different beneficial side effects as the humble bicycle and none represent a more cost-effective way to get in shape and stay that way than the bike. If you want to get in shape but don’t have the inclination to join the local health club buy a bike and start riding. You’ll find out soon enough what millions of people of all ages around the world already know: the bicycle is your key to a better life.