On your bike - cycle your way to fitness this spring
There are loads of ways that cycling is good for your body and mind - regular cycling can help to reduce your stress levels, shed those extra pounds and improve your overall fitness. With spring right around the corner, there has never been a better time to get on your bike, whether you're commuting to work or just cycling in your leisure time.
Did you know that cycling is the UK's third most popular hobby, with around 3.1 million people riding a bike each month (1)? The reasons why we get on our bikes vary, depending on what you're hoping to achieve, but if you need a good reason to take to two wheels this spring - keep reading!
Suitable for all
Cycling is a popular form of exercise, and for good reason - it's suitable for all ages and levels of fitness and it's a great way to enjoy family time; kids love bikes! Not only is cycling great exercise, it's also good for the environment and a convenient, healthy way to get from A to B, whether you cycle to work or just use your bike on the weekends.
Burn baby burn
Cycling may be a low-impact form of exercise which is easier on your joints than aerobic activities such as running, but that's not to say you can't burn some serious calories when you get on your bike! An individual weighing 12st 9lb (80kg) can burn over 650 calories in an hour's cycling session, and cycling is one of the best ways to tone your bum and legs - just in time for the summer! Riding off-road or including hills in your commute gives your upper body a serious workout too.
Soak up the sun
Getting outdoors is a great reason to get on your bike - we could all use some more vitamin D for strong bones and a mood boost. Riding a bike is one of the most active things you can do in your leisure time, and a relaxing bike ride burns more calories than an easy walk. Travelling at under 10mph on your bike for an hour burns around 281 calories, whilst walking at 2mph for the same time burns around 176 calories (2). Sticking to a leisurely pace can help to improve your overall fitness, but for a real challenge, push your speed up to over 10mph and make sure you're powering up those hills!
Recover from injuries
Running can really take its toll on your body (and your joints), so if you're recovering from an injury, or just looking for an alternative form of exercise, cycling is the answer. It's low impact, engages your leg muscles and doesn't put as much pressure on your knees as running does.
Age is just a number
By the time you reach old age, weight lifting and other exercises just aren't going to be possible. But you'll be able to cycle for the rest of your life, and it's a great way to stay fit and active. Staying fit as you get older can help reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, and can also help to keep your joints supple and flexible.
Reduce your stress levels
A study by the New Economics Foundation revealed that those who commute to work by bike have lower stress levels than commuters using cars or public transport. Cyclists love their commute - and it has to be better than taking a crowded tube carriage to work every morning!
Get a healthier heart
According to studies by the British Medical Association, cycling 20 miles a week can cut your risk of coronary heart disease in haf. Combine this with a healthy diet and you're well on your way to a healthier, happier heart!
Enjoy a restful night's sleep
We know that exercising outside is good for us - Professor Jim Horne from Loughborough University's Sleep Research Centre explains why, "Exercising outside exposes you to daylight. This helps get your circadian rhythm back in sync, and also rids your body of cortisol, the stress hormone that can prevent deep, regenerative sleep. Researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine found that with 20 to 30 minutes of cycling every other day, insomniacs could cut the time taken to fall asleep by half and could also enjoy an extra hour of sleep!
Boost your brain power
We bet you never thought that cycling could make you brainier AND help protect against Alzheimer's disease? We're not promising MENSA membership, but researchers from Illinois University discovered that cycling regularly could lead to a 15% improvement in mental test scores. Cycling can help your brain build new cells in the hippocampus region, which is responsible for memory.
A study by King's College London of 2,400 identical twins revealed that those who cycled for 45 minutes just three times a week were 'biologically younger' by nine years, even after taking into account other factors such as smoking and BMI (3). Dr Lynn Charkas, lead researcher, said, "Those who exercise regularly are at significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type two diabetes, all types of cancer, high blood pressure and obesity. The body becomes much more efficient at defending itself and regenerating new cells."
As you can see, there are loads of reasons why cycling should become your new hobby, but don't forget to stay safe, whether you're cycling in the heart of the city or enjoying the countryside. A well-fitting cycle helmet that meets the British Standard (BS EN 1078:1997) is essential - it should fasten securely under your chin. Don't be tempted to buy secondhand helmets - they're not that much cheaper and may not provide you with the protection you need if you're involved in an accident. It's easy to find cycle helmets for a fairly reasonable price, in new condition. If you're cycling at night, you'll need to have a white front light, red rear light, red rear reflector and amber or yellow pedal reflectors front and back - make sure that any steady lights you buy have the BS 6102-3 mark. For reflectors, check for BS 6102-2 markings to ensure they meet the British Standard - buying from a cycle specialist is best, rather than picking these up online.
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