By Brad Shaw, Fitness Editor | UPDATED: 08:28, 27 May 2020
In just a few week’s time, elite cyclists from all over the world would have been descending upon Europe for the start of this year’s Tour de France.
The world’s most famous cycling race would have seen 22 teams go head to head for more than 2,000 miles, ending with a magnificent sprint down France’s iconic Champs-Élysées.
This year though it will not be, but do not let that deter you from dusting off your own bike and making the most of the quiet roads during this time.
For an energetic workout that’ll burn calories, torch fat and clear the mind, nothing quite beats the challenge of getting on two wheels. If you manage to complete the exhausting 23-day TdF for instance, you could burn off up to 118,000 calories – that’s the equivalent of 26 Mars bars per day.
Thankfully, you don’t have to pedal across France to get a decent workout from cycling, however. Even if you just choose to potter around the UK’s picturesque country lanes, regularly finding time to get on your bike can bring some pretty important benefits for both mind and body.
And now that the sun is shining, there’s never been a better time to get inspired by the likes of Joanna Rowsell and Chris Froome.
Here, fitness experts explain more about the health and fitness benefits of cycling…
1. It may help you to live longer
It should come as no big surprise that low levels of physical activity have been linked to a myriad of serious and life-threatening health conditions, and a cycle a day can be one of the most gentle and enjoyable ways to get moving.
“There’s lots of evidence to suggest that cycling can promote long life,” says Bryan McCullough, a clinical manager and physiotherapist from Pure Sports Medicine (puresportsmed.com).
“For instance, a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, conducted on over 80,000 British adults, found that cycling participation produced a significant reduction in causes of mortality – including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.”
Another study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that commuters who cycled had a 52% lower risk of dying from heart disease, and 40% lower risk of dying from cancer than those that didn’t.
2. You can lose weight
Struggling to lose those stubborn extra pounds? It might be time to pocket the car keys and invest in a bike.
“Cycling is a great way to shed the calories, build muscles in the lower body and gradually improve cardiovascular fitness at a sustainable pace,” says Louise Williams, cycling expert at Halfords (halfords.com).
Cycling also packs on lean muscle – particularity in the legs. When your foot hits the downstroke, you use a fiery combination of the glutes in the buttocks, the quadriceps in the thighs, and the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles in the calves to propel you forward.
As you backstroke the wheel back into position, the body then relies on the hamstrings in the back of the thighs and the flexor muscles in the front of the hips to keep you in motion, creating a total lower-body workout.
“Perhaps best of all, it’s very low-impact, ” says Williams, “which means it’s much easier on the knees than running. You can get all of the benefits of a challenging workout without straining your joints.”
3. You’ll sleep better
We all know there’s nothing worse then staring at the ceiling in the early hours of the morning, willing sleep to come. So next time insomnia strikes, think about cycling your commute home instead.
“Cycling can be tiring work and it has been shown to have a significant positive effect on those who suffer with sleep issues,” says McCullough. “Just as little as 20-30 minutes of cycling on alternate days is enough to have a significant impact on sleep quality.”
Getting enough sleep is vital for overall health, and plays a role in improving your mood and balancing your hormone levels, while ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of conditions including heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke.
4. It can boost your mood
If you’re looking for a way to lift your spirits, cycling could be just the tonic. “It’s basically an alternative way to achieve what is known as ‘runner’s high’,” says McCullough. “The euphoria you feel after a rigorous cycle is all down to the exercise-induced release of endorphins within your body, which are not only potent pain relievers, but also help to boost your mood.”
Cycling is also an effective way to shake off stress; exercising burns off the excess adrenaline you’ve built up during the day’s challenges, while slowing down the production of the stress hormone cortisol.
5. Better heart health
Cycling is a cardiovascular activity, making it a thorough workout for the heart. Like any form of aerobic exercise, it also increases the presence of good cholesterol in the body, whose job is to transport fat away from arteries.
In fact, The British Medical Association found that cycling just 20 miles a week can slash your risk of coronary heart disease in half, when compared with staying sedentary.
To add to its merit, cycling is also one of the most enjoyable forms of exercise you can find. “As with most things, long bike rides are best done with friends,” says Williams.
“So if you’re looking to build your physical fitness, why not take on a big cycling challenge? Not only does some company make for a more interesting ride, but you’ll all share the effort, help keep each other motivated and have fun along the way.”