According to the activity guidelines published by the Public Health Agency of Canada, adults need about 2.5 hours of exercise a week to reap health benefits. With all the options available, what makes cycling an ideal sport?
For starters, cycling is easy. Many people have ridden bikes as children, and while it may take a few minutes for your body to adjust to the balance required on two wheels, you truly never forget. In addition, there are a variety of bike styles available now – from road bikes to fat bikes – so that each rider is able to find a style that suits their needs and body type. The industry has expanded to include a wide range of demographics beyond the grand tour racing, Lycra-clad, super athletes that grace TV. Women have seen great gains in the sport, especially in mountain biking and performances on the world stage continue showcase lesser-known disciplines such as track cycling.
Unlike running or some aerobics classes, cycling is low impact. Because it is not a weight-bearing sport, it does not stress knee and hip joints as much as other popular sport, which, in turn, means you will be able to participate in it for years to come.
Case in point, 102 year-old, Robert Marchand, bested the hour record twice. (This is the distance a rider completes in one hour on a velodrome or ‘banked track’ specifically designed for cycling) Although he rode when he was a young man, he did not revisit cycling until age 67.
Now 105, he has been named the world’s greatest centenarian athlete. This is not by chance. Romuald Lepers from the University of Burgundy at Dijon and colleagues looked at records of our eldest athletes and compared them with elite record holders across athletics, swimming, and cycling. While all the times decreased, as expected, Marchand showed the least amount of decrease, 50 per cent, as opposed to the oldest 100-meter record holder who showed a 69 per cent decrease in speed. This study lends credence to cycling as being the ideal lifelong sport.
Masters World’s in all cycling disciplines, sees a growing number of riders aged 65-plus at the yearly competition with many of them being former national elite team members and even medal winners on the world stage.
Second, cycling increases both strength and endurance. Rides that include hills help to strengthen your legs and core, and long rides at a steady pace are excellent for endurance. It is easy to choose how easy or hard difficult you want your ride to be. Because of this, for many non-cycling athletes, cycling is used in conjunction with sport specific training to maintain fitness.
If you decide to replace driving to work with riding, cycling becomes a way to improve fitness on daily basis, doing something that you would already be doing. Additionally, you’ll feel good about making your commute green.
To get into the nitty gritty a bit, cycling is more than just rolling round on two wheels. It is primarily an aerobic sport. This means that the primary benefits will be to strengthening your heart. Heart disease has ranked second in deaths, among men and women, for quite a few years. Poor diets and sedentary lifestyles all contribute to keeping heart disease at the top of the chart. Throughout our lives, our hearts will beat an average of 3 billion times. As a muscle, it needs to be as strong as any other muscle in your body, and like your biceps or quads, it can and will increase in size and in thickness the more you perform aerobic exercise.
Aerobic activity strengthens your heart, which in turn increases your stroke volume, the amount of blood that your heart pumps with each beat. Increased stroke volume means that your heart doesn’t have to work as hard as you gain fitness. It becomes more efficient. More efficiency translates to less stress, which contributes to a decrease in heart disease.
Other physical benefits of cycling include increase strength and mobility, joint flexibility, and improved core strength and posture.
Beyond the physical benefits, exercise has been shown to be an effective intervention in mental health care. Several countries, such as Australia and the U.K. prescribe exercise to patients before resorting to medications. Anxiety and depression, for example, are believed to respond on a physiological level to exercise-induced increase in blood circulation to the brain. Without getting too technical, the regions affected help to regulate the body’s response to stresses, which reduce anxiety and other stress-related syndromes. On a more sociological level, exercise is thought to help with mental health due to the benefits of distraction, self-efficacy, and social interaction. The more positive your thoughts the better you feel.
Structured group workouts are known to help patients on a short-term basis, but it is the lifestyle change that is associated with long-term benefits. For cycling you realize benefits from the social scene as well as from the activity itself. Cycling is inherently a group sport and joining a weekly ride introduces you to like-minded people who will help to keep you motivated.
Finally, cycling is an ideal lifelong sport because there really is never a shortage of new sights to see. Whether you enjoy people watching while riding the loop through the park or prefer longer rides away from the city, each ride is different. It is also a travel-friendly activity as many cities now have bike-share or rental programs available. There are even dozens of touring companies that will help you plan your dream bike vacation be it to ride the famous climbs in France or to meander through the dirt roads of Peru.