Get on your bike to boost fit­ness and re­duce stress

From feel­ing hap­pier to pro­tect­ing your heart, Liz Con­nor spins through the ben­e­fits of bik­ing

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Health -

FOR an en­er­getic work­out that’ll burn calo­ries, torch fat and clear the mind, noth­ing quite beats the chal­lenge of get­ting on two wheels. If you man­age to com­plete the ex­haust­ing 23-day TdF for in­stance, you could burn off up to 118,000 calo­ries - that’s the equiv­a­lent of 26 Mars bars per day.

Thank­fully, you don’t have to pedal across France to get a de­cent work­out from cy­cling, how­ever. Even if you just choose to pot­ter around Ire­land’s pic­turesque coun­try lanes, reg­u­larly find­ing time to get on your bike can bring some pretty im­por­tant ben­e­fits for mind and body. And now that the sun is shining, there’s never been a bet­ter time to start ped­al­ing.

Here, fit­ness ex­perts ex­plain more about the health and fit­ness ben­e­fits of cy­cling...

1. It may help you to live longer

It should come as no big sur­prise that low lev­els of phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity have been linked to a myr­iad of se­ri­ous and life-threat­en­ing health con­di­tions, and a cy­cle a day can be one of the most gen­tle and en­joy­able ways to get mov­ing. “There’s lots of ev­i­dence to sug­gest that cy­cling can pro­mote long life,” says phys­io­ther­a­pist Bryan McCul­lough.

“For in­stance, a study pub­lished in the Bri­tish Jour­nal of Sports Medicine, con­ducted on more than 80,000 adults, found that cyc- ling par­tic­i­pa­tion pro­duced a sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion in causes of mor­tal­ity— in­clud­ing car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, di­a­betes and cancer.”

An­other study, pub­lished in the Bri­tish Med­i­cal Jour­nal, found that com­muters who cy­cled had a 52% lower risk of dy­ing from heart dis­ease, and 40% lower risk of dy­ing from cancer than those that didn’t.

2. You can lose weight

Strug­gling to lose those stub­born ex­tra pounds? It might be time to pocket the car keys and in­vest in a bike. “Cy­cling is a great way to shed the calo­ries, build in the lower body and grad­u­ally im­prove car­dio­vas­cu­lar fit­ness at a sus­tain­able pace,” says Louise Wil­liams, cy­cling ex­pert at Hal­fords.

Cy­cling also packs on lean mus­cle — par­tic­u­lar­ity in the legs. When your foot hits the down­stroke, you use a fiery com­bi­na­tion of the glutes in the but­tocks, the quadri­ceps in the thighs, and the gas­troc­ne­mius and soleus mus­cles in the calves to pro­pel you for­ward. As you back­stroke the wheel back into po­si­tion, the body then re­lies on the ham­strings in the back of the thighs and the flexor mus­cles in the front of the hips to keep you in mo­tion, cre­at­ing a to­tal lower-body work­out.

“Per­haps best of all, it’s very low-im­pact, “says Wil­liams, “which means it’s much eas­ier on the knees than run­ning. You can get all of the ben­e­fits of a chal­leng­ing work­out with­out strain­ing your joints.”

3. You’ll sleep bet­ter

We all know there’s noth­ing worse than star­ing at the ceil­ing in the early hours of the morn­ing, will­ing sleep to come. So next time in­som­nia strikes, think about cy­cling your com­mute home in­mus­cles stead. “Cy­cling can be tir­ing work and it has been shown to have a sig­nif­i­cant pos­i­tive ef­fect on those who suf­fer with sleep is­sues,” says McCul­lough.

“Just as lit­tle as 20-30 min­utes of cy­cling on al­ter­nate days is enough to have a sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on sleep qual­ity.”

Get­ting enough sleep is vi­tal for over­all health, and plays a role in im­prov­ing your mood and balancing your hor­mone lev­els, while on­go­ing sleep de­fi­ciency is linked to an in­creased risk of con­di­tions in­clud­ing heart dis­ease, kid­ney dis­ease, high blood pres­sure, di­a­betes and stroke.

4. It can boost your mood

If you’re look­ing for a way to lift your spir­its, cy­cling could be just the tonic. “It’s ba­si­cally an al­ter­na­tive way to achieve what is known as ‘run­ner’s high’,” says McCul­lough. “The eu­pho­ria you feel af­ter a rig­or­ous cy­cle is all down to the ex­er­cise-in­duced re­lease of en­dor­phins within your body, which are not only po­tent pain re­liev­ers, but also help to boost your mood.”

Cy­cling is also an ef­fec­tive way to burn off the ex­cess adren­a­line you’ve built up dur­ing the day’s chal­lenges.

5. Bet­ter heart health

Cy­cling is a car­dio­vas­cu­lar ac­tiv­ity, mak­ing it a thor­ough work­out for the heart. Like any form of aer­o­bic ex­er­cise, it also in­creases the pres­ence of good choles­terol in the body, whose job is to trans­port fat away from ar­ter­ies. Cy­cling just 20 miles a week can slash your risk of coro­nary heart dis­ease in half, when com­pared with stay­ing seden­tary. It is also one of the most en­joy­able forms of ex­er­cise you can find. “Long bike rides are best done with friends,” says Wil­liams. “If you’re look­ing to build your fit­ness, why not take on a big cy­cling chal­lenge? Not only does some com­pany make for a more in­ter­est­ing ride, but you’ll all share the ef­fort, help keep each other mo­ti­vated and have fun along the way.”

Pic­ture: PA

IN GEAR: Re­search shows that cy­cling reg­u­larly will not only im­prove your fit­ness and help ypu sleep bet­ter, but also re­duce your stress lev­els.

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