This article is not meant to diagnose or provide medical advice—that responsibility lies with physicians. The author is not a licensed medical professional.
As a long time fitness enthusiast, I have done it all in regards to my own training—whether it was bodybuilding, running or CrossFit. However, as age and injury have reared their ugly heads, it has become increasingly difficult to do many of the exercises that I once considered second nature. Not nearly as spry as I used to be, the pounding and high repetitions of running and CrossFit are just too hard to recover from these days. So in an effort to reinvent my fitness regimen, I ditched the aforementioned training methods, adding in bodyweight movements while incorporating more and more biking as a principal form of cardio. This shift has provided me with a less stressful form of exercise that has reinvigorated my fitness routine while yielding an unparalleled sense of freedom and enjoyment that is hard to come by while cooped up in a gym.
With May being National Bike Month, now is as good a time as any to dust off the old bike or even buy a new one and start riding. National Bike Month was designed to showcase the benefits of biking in order to encourage more people to ride more often. Whether you are riding to get to work, leisurely with your family or as part of your training regimen, biking offers many health benefits that everyone can take advantage of.
This may come as a surprise, but bicycling is actually a full body workout. Your legs, particularly your quads, gluts and hamstrings, will get the brunt of the workout. You are, after all, using them to pedal the bike. However, bicycling also works your upper body muscles, lower back and core in a variety of ways. Although not as heavily relied upon in cycling as your legs, your arms and shoulders are getting worked simply because you are gripping the handlebar in order to stabilize the bike, which is something that is increased when standing to pedal on an uphill climb. Also, providing much needed balance and stability during your ride are the abs, core and lower back. While riding, you tighten your core and engage your lower back. Doing so enables riders to maintain their posture while keeping them balanced on the bike and ultimately allows riders to pedal harder and longer than they normally would.
It has been proven time and time again that bicycling regularly, even a couple of miles a few times a week, can boost your cardiovascular health, cutting your risk of heart disease by 50 percent, as evidenced in a recent study by the University of Purdue. How? Bicycling increases your heart rate over a prolonged period of time. Having your heart beat faster than normal increases blood flow throughout the body. This results in a stronger overall heart, a lower standing pulse rate and reduced blood fat levels, all three of which help prevent cardiovascular issues such as stroke, high blood pressure and heart attacks.
Improved cardiovascular health is linked to an overall increase in stamina. Cycling is an endurance exercise that can be done over long distances without too much muscle fatigue or stress on the joints. These prolonged distances require your body to draw upon its stored energy over an extended period of time. The result is that the body has more stamina and with that comes higher energy levels, a more enthusiastic mood and a much more productive life.
I’m recovering from a few injuries, none more devastating than the three herniated discs in my back. Needless to say, I had to find a form of exercise other than running that would be just as beneficial without the stress that running puts on the body. Cycling is a low risk, low impact cross training option that engages the leg muscles and raises the heart rate without any undue force on the joints. There is no pounding similar to that which running puts on the back, hips, knees and ankles. This makes cycling a great alternative form of exercise for anyone recovering from an injury or getting older and looking to preserve his or her joints.
It should come as no surprise that exercise, in general, is an excellent form of stress relief. We’ve all heard of the “runner’s high.” Well, that is not some made up phrase by running addicts, it was scientifically proven to exist by German researchers back in 2008. Their studies determined that the body produces feel-good hormones as a consequence of running. Like running, you do achieve a similar high while riding, thanks to the aerobic nature of the exercise. However, cycling goes far beyond just increasing endorphins. The repetitive nature of the pedaling is also a stress reliever because of the rhythmic cadence it creates that is hard to come by in other endurance activities. Furthermore, riding your bike is just plain old fun and I can’t think of a better setting to exercise in than the outdoors, riding around and checking out the scenery.
Rich Stoner is a freelance writer based in New Jersey.