What are the health benefits of cycling?

Jed Campbell-Williams
Workplace Health Operations Manager at Bupa UK
17 August 2022
Next review due August 2025

Cycling can be fun and enjoyable for all ages and abilities. It can also be a quick and eco-friendly way to get around. But what are the health benefits of cycling? Here I explore how cycling compares to other forms of exercise, such as running. I’ll also share the top five health benefits that cycling regularly can bring you.

two cyclists taking a break

Why is cycling so healthy?

Cycling is a great, low impact exercise. This means it doesn’t put unnecessary strain onto your muscles or joints. This makes it a good choice if you have health conditions such as arthritis. It can also help if you’re recovering from an injury.

Cycling gives you many different health benefits, making it an effective form of exercise. It’s also suitable for people with different fitness levels and accessibility needs. Also, cycling is cheaper and easier to do than many other forms of exercise – making you more likely to do it regularly.

The top five health benefits of cycling

Cycling has a wide range of health benefits, but here are the top five.

1. It improves your cardiovascular health

Cycling is a form of cardio exercise – this means it increases your heart rate and strengthens your lungs and blood vessels. People who cycle regularly have a lower risk of heart disease than those who walk or do gardening instead. This may be because cycling is a moderate intensity exercise. This means it strengthens your heart more than lower intensity activities such as gentle walking.

2. It can boost your mental health

Exercise has been shown repeatedly to improve mental wellbeing. And cycling is no exception. Biking outdoors may be particularly beneficial. This is because spending more time in nature is also good for your mental health. Cycling may also increase mental wellbeing in older adults too. A study comparing the mood of adults in care homes found they had a better mood on days they were taken for a bike ride.

3. It can strengthen your muscles and joints

As you age, you lose muscle mass and strength. This can cause problems such as weakness and pain in later life. Regular exercise, including cycling, can help to reduce some of these natural effects of aging. If you have arthritis, exercise is now recommended to reduce pain and other symptoms, such as stiffness. One study showed that after 12 weeks of cycling, people with knee arthritis reported significantly less pain and better mobility than those who didn’t cycle.

4. It can help you manage your weight

If you regularly cycle at a high intensity, you may be able to reduce your body fat stores. This can help you maintain a healthier body weight, especially if you also eat a balanced diet. Also, if you combine cycling with resistance-style exercises, you can increase your lean muscle mass and resting metabolic rate. When your resting metabolic rate is higher it means you burn more calories, even at rest.

5. It improves your balance and coordination

Having good balance and coordination are an important part of healthy aging. Helpfully, cycling can support you with this. Studies show that cycling three times a week for around 20 minutes can improve balance scores and walking pace in older women. This effect happened even when a stationary bike was used.

How does cycling compare to running?

Running is also a type of cardiovascular exercise with many health benefits. However, for some people, running can put a strain on their joints and muscles. This means a lower impact exercise such as cycling might be better. Cycling also has the added benefits of coordination and balance improvements too. Some people may find cycling a more enjoyable way to work out. Or you might like to alternate between running and cycling for more variety.

How much cycling per week is healthy?

The Chief Medical Officer in the UK recommends that all adults to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each week. This means doing cardiovascular exercise, such as cycling, for 30 minutes five times a week. But you’ll also need to add in 2-3 sessions per week of resistance training, such as weightlifting or yoga, to meet your weekly targets.

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Jed Campbell-Williams
Jed Campbell-Williams (he/him)
Workplace Health Operations Manager at Bupa UK

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