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Pedal your way to good health

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, says an ancient Chinese proverb. Cyclists and believers have a more refreshing take as they believe that the journey to good health begins with a single pedal.

If one considers the immense benefits of cycling, one will become a believer and take up cycling sooner rather than later. And this post intends to turn readers into believers through describing 10 reasons why cycling is great for the health of an individual – and the planet too. So here goes…

Reason 1: Cycling enhances mental wellness

It is a fact that cycling makes one happy. If you are someone who resists from taking up a sport, you would agree that you feel more and more lethargic as your day progresses. In fact, this has now been proven with a study by the YMCA demonstrating that people who have a physically active lifestyle have a wellbeing score that is as much as 32 per cent higher than inactive individuals.

Exercising, especially cycling, can boost one’s mood as the activity not only helps in the release of adrenalin and endorphins but also leads to improved confidence that comes from achieving new goals – for instance, cycling a kilometre in under a minute.

Importantly, cycling combines physical exercise with being outdoors, leading to newer explorations and ideas. Riding solo, one can also get enough time to process a problem or a concern, or one can also ride with a group that widens one’s social circle and, in turn, helps build a support system.

Reason 2: Cycling ensures weight loss

Most health and metabolism indicators point to the fact that weight loss is equated to calorie burn. In this realm, cycling helps burn calories: between 400 to 1000 an hour, depending on intensity and rider weight.

Cycling will help you burn calories and, along with eating right and getting proper hours of rest, it will help you lose weight. When you are cycling you are carrying your own weight and not relying on an external weight. Hence, the lighter you become, the faster you’d be able to cycle, creating a virtuous cycle for you: becoming fitter – riding faster – becoming fitter.

Reason 3: Cycling builds muscle

Can you feel the wind in your face while cycling fast enough? Well, the resistance element of the wind while cycling means that it doesn’t just burn fat, it also builds muscle – particularly around the glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves. Muscle is leaner than fat and people with a higher percentage of muscle burn more calories, even when sedentary.

It would be ideal if you combine freehand exercise with cycling. Say, you can cycle up to the park, complete your round of stretching and warm-up exercises and again hit the streets on the cycle as you pedal back home.

Reason 4: Cycling ensures better lung health

This point may appear contradictory. However, a recent study suggests that people who ride a bike are actually exposed to fewer dangerous fumes than those who travel by car.

Research by the ‘Healthy Air’ campaign in London saw air pollution detectors fitted to a driver, a bus user, a pedestrian and a cyclist using a busy route through central London. The results indicated that the driver experienced five times higher pollution levels than the cyclist, as well as three and a half more than the walker and two and a half times more than the bus user. Result: The cyclist won.

However, with the growing menace of air pollution in fast-growing cities like Dhaka, it is advisable that riders wear a mask to protect themselves from the particulate matter in vehicular fumes, dust particles, etc. Else, one can go for early morning or late evening rides when the traffic is generally low and the roads are mostly clear.

Reason 5: Cycling cuts heart disease and cancer risk

In addition to burning calories, cycling also raises your heart rate and gets the blood pumping around your body, thereby limiting the chance of your being overweight. As a result, cycling is widely considered to be an essential form of exercise for being healthy and cut the risks of developing major illnesses, such as heart diseases and cancer, and also for substantially lowering risks of other adverse health outcomes.

Lifestyle ailments like heart attacks and cancer are rampant across demographics, especially in fast-developing nations, and cycling is an important tool by which one can minimise their chances of contracting these damaging health conditions.

Reason 6: Cycling exerts low impact

It is a no-brainer that cycling is a low impact form of exercise. However, one can argue that running is also low-impact and hence can be preferable. By no means are we suggesting one over the other, but one must consider the fact that running is weight-bearing and therefore injury rates are higher. Cycling, by contrast, is not weight-bearing.

However, the lack of weight-bearing also means that cycling does not do much to augment bone density and hence it would be good to include strength training into your daily exercise regimen.

Reason 7: Cycling helps one sleep better

It probably isn’t rocket science to understand that tiring yourself out on the bike will improve your sleep. Researchers at a US university studied men and women aged 20-85 years over a period of 35 years and found that a drop in fitness of 2 per cent for men and 4 per cent for women resulted in sleep problems. In the medical world, it is widely believed that the steepest decline in cardiorespiratory fitness happens between ages of 40 and 60 years. This is also when problems of sleep duration and quality are elevated.

It is in looking for causes behind the link that scientists have come to suggest that it could be a reduction in anxiety, brought about by exercise (cycling!), that elevates the ability to sleep. Exercise also protects against weight gain with age, yet another cause of sleep dysfunction.

Reason 8: Cycling helps boost brain power

Exercise has been often linked to brain health and to the reduction of cognitive changes that can leave us vulnerable to dementia later in life.

A study found that during exercise, a cyclist’s blood flow to the brain and other specific areas rises dramatically, vis-à-vis a state in which one is inactive. Improved blood flow is good because the red blood cells deliver oxygen to the vital parts of our body.

Reason 9: Cycling helps in everyday activities

A Harvard Medical School research has concluded that the benefits of cycling carry right over to help maintain balance and in walking, standing and stair-climbing. Cycling has also found to heal backaches and also their occurrence. So if you are recuperating from a backache, upon consultation with your doctor, you can take up cycling for quicker healing while also regaining your stance and posture.

Reason 10: Cycling saves money and time

In addition to your physical health, cycling can be good for your financial health too. Consider the expenses one needs to put up with when buying a car. One, the capital cost; two, the cost of fuel and the driver; three, the cost of insurance; four, the cost of maintenance; five, the cost of parking, which can be substantial when calculated over a period of time.

Now let’s tally the expenses on cycling. A cycle costs an insignificant amount; fuel is free; there are no driver expenses; there’s no insurance cost; maintenance expenses are negligible; parking is free. Moreover, while riding a cycle, one can easily navigate and filter the traffic, rather than remaining gridlocked in a snarl in a car and waiting for hours on end to reach home. Since time is money, saving time is money too.

In summation, the health benefits of cycling include muscle toning, improved cardiovascular health and better blood circulation. It is one of the simplest forms of working-out and is a physical activity that is required by the human body.

So get on your cycle today and pedal your way to good health. And yes, do wear a helmet and proper elbow/knee guards on your journey. Here’s wishing you hundreds of miles of good luck!

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