It’s no secret that cycling is good for you – we’ve all probably lost a few inches from around the waist riding as little as a few days a week. But have you ever thought about the other benefits gained from riding a bike? There’s a surprising number of positives you’re picking up without even realising it, so let’s go for a dive and see what we’re getting while out on the bike.
Physical Benefits of Cycling
The charity Sustrans found that adults who ride regularly have fitness levels of someone up to 10 years younger. As for fat-burning, even a short 20-minute ride to work can burn enough calories to cancel out your morning cappuccino or the croissant with your morning brew.
The list of positives bike riding gives your body is a lengthy one: improved cardiovascular fitness, reduced body fat, more muscular strength, and improved circulation. It even makes you better off the bike…
Contrary to popular belief, cycling in our polluted cities isn’t as bad for your lungs as you might think. A recent study by Kings College London fitted air pollution detectors to a car driver, bus passenger, pedestrian and a cyclist. To cut a long story short, the driver came off worst, experiencing pollution levels five times greater than the cyclist, who came out on top.
David Speigelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge has an even stronger argument for why riding is good for you – it can extend your life; for every hour you spend riding your bike, you add an hour to your life expectancy, even accounting for the risks involved. Basically, cycling makes you immortal…well, maybe.
Mental Health and Cycling
What about our mental health? While some ride to get fit, there are just as many people who ride bikes simply because it makes them happy. And happiness is not trivial; how you feel about yourself, your life, and the world around you is just as important, or for some even more so, as the physical benefits of cycling. According to the British Mental Health Foundation, physical activity can be as effective as medication and counselling in overcoming and even preventing anxiety and depression.
If you are a racer, or intend to get into it, then there’s a crossover between the way you feel in yourself and the quality of your riding as well. From distraction techniques to positive mental attitude, it’s no myth that psychology plays a big part in performance on the bike – the mighty Team Sky have employed a psychiatrist since day one while searching for those marginal gains. If you’re at the limit of physical ability, what’s between your ears can be the difference between winning and losing.
Those clever chaps at GCN have had a good look into this. Check out the video to see what they have to say.
Riding a bike is a pretty meditative experience – something to do with the repetitive motion helps to put you into a calm mood. Cycling tends to focus the mind onto the rhythm of the wheels and the turning of the pedals, allowing thoughts the space to wander. This is when our minds are most able to untangle the complications and stresses of the day. Ever found yourself coming to a solution to a problem, or feeling that the work stress is actually slightly reduced, after a bike ride?
As journalist Charles Graham-Dixon explains, “I am unable to recall an occasion when a ride of any kind didn’t make potentially difficult life choices simpler, when the fears I had before stepping out of the door and climbing on the saddle didn’t dissipate once out on the road”.
As we’ve recently seen in the news, riding a bike has been proven to be faster to get around than most other forms of transportation. Putting aside the financial benefits for a moment, this shows that riding to work or as a form of everyday transport gives you back time – that most precious commodity – that you’d otherwise lose sitting immobile in a traffic jam or waiting on the platform for the delayed train.
Cycling is staggeringly good for not just your bank account but for the economy as a whole. A recent study claimed that traffic jams are costing the UK economy more than £37 billion a year through lost productivity, wasted fuel and time. £37 billion! Just think about that for a moment, and what could be done if it was in the piggy bank rather than being wasted at the side of the road. Individually the costs are £1,168, on top of the ever-growing amount you’re likely to spend on fuel, MOT, road tax and the car itself.
Cycling author Simon Warren’s popular tweet put it best.
UK cyclists wasted an average of 0 hours in rush-hour traffic last year, costing each cyclist £0, a study suggests.
— Simon Warren (@100Climbs) February 6, 2018
So, as you can see, there’s a lot more to be gained from riding a bike than just making space for cake. Keep up the good work – you’re getting more than you bargained for!