4 Health Benefits Of Cycling

Riding a bicycle, whether indoors or outdoors, can provide an excellent and affordable workout for people of all ages.

Like most physical activities, it can also protect against obesity, heart disease, diabetes, low mood, etc. Here are four reasons to take up cycling on a regular basis.

1. Builds muscle and bone

Whether you are cycling uphill or on level ground, the activity uses muscles in your shoulders, gluteus muscles in the buttocks, the quadriceps in the thighs, and more during the power phase.

And during the recovery phase, hamstrings in the back of the thighs and the flexor muscles in the hips are used. The activation of several muscles can, in turn, also help with building healthy bones and preventing bone loss.

"Resistance activities, such as pushing pedals, pull on the muscles, and then the muscles pull on the bone, which increases bone density," said Dr. Clare Safran-Norton, a physical therapist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston.

2. Provides a brainpower boost

"While we know that [cycling] can have positive effects on cardiovascular disease and diabetes, we have found it can bring about improvements in cognition, brain function, and brain structure," said Dr. Art Kramer from the University of Illinois.

According to a 2012 study led by him, regular cycling could improve memory and problem-solving skills in the elderly by 15 to 20 percent.

But it is never too early to start, Kramer said, as even children who walk or cycle often exhibit better cognitive control than those who engage in sedentary behavior.

3. Workout for arthritis patients

It is known that people who suffer from balance problems can benefit from indoor cycling. But this also applies to arthritis patients, who can get a good cardiovascular workout without adding stress to their joints.

"People with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis who become inactive because of pain often develop balance problems, so they are less likely to injure themselves on a stationary bike," said physical therapist Matthew Goodemote from Community Physical Therapy & Wellness, New York.

Another benefit of indoor cycling is the ease of routine which does not have to be affected by factors like disruptive weather or time-consuming traffic. 

4. Improves overall mental health

Of course, pedaling as a mode of transport saves time compared to walking. But people who commute to work on a bicycle also report being the happiest during their commute, compared to those who drive or take public transit.

The activity may also help in alleviating symptoms of mental illnesses. In a 2015 study, MRI scans of schizophrenia patients revealed a link between regular cycling and improved brain connectivity.

"For me, cycling soothes my anxiety," said Kym Perfetto, a celebrity trainer and master instructor at SoulCycle. "I feel in-tune with my body and my surroundings. But I also use cycling for exercise, which is scientifically proven to improve mood, as cardio increases serotonin in the body."