On your bike: the health benefits of cycling

Tow freinds cycling in the countryside

One of the positives to come out of our recently restricted lives is that many people have taken to two wheels to get some exercise and enjoy the great outdoors. And what better time to get out there than National Bike Week?

Cycling is a great activity for families and small groups of friends but can be just as enjoyable on your own.

Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer looks at the health benefits of cycling and how to get the most out of your biking.

What are the health benefits?

Lots of people have turned to cycling recently as a great way of keeping fit.  It’s also been a great way to get outdoors, breathe some fresh air and just enjoy the ride. In terms of actual energy consumed, you can burn around 600 calories an hour, or if doing a harder ride, as many as 800.  It’s therefore a great way of keeping weight in check. If you’re going out for an hour’s ride, then you don’t need to take any snacks or extra food; the body has its own amazing energy-storage system. But always travel with a water bottle to keep yourself hydrated.

Close up of a woman mountain biking

Any form of exercise that elevates the heart rate for around 30 minutes helps with fat burning but also overall aerobic fitness.  This is turn has a positive effect on blood pressure, cholesterol levels and protection against Type 2 diabetes.  Additionally, cycling is great for mental wellbeing and you see much more of the world when you’re slightly elevated above the hedge line!

How can I make the most of an hour’s ride?

The beauty of cycling is that you don’t need to go out for hours and hours if time is short.  Why not set yourself small challenges such as trying to get further on a certain route in a fixed amount of time, meaning you’ve cycled faster?  Or try to add some hills or small inclines into your ride.  It’s so much harder trying to get a bike up a hill than running it, so you’ll get a much better cardio workout.

A family going for a bike ride

However, not every ride needs to be about a challenge because the most important part of cycling or any exercise is to enjoy the experience. Notice the landscape around you and be grateful for the opportunity of seeing the great outdoors and to have some headspace.  Vary your routes and try to avoid overly busy roads.

Close up of a bike's water bottle in situ

Clearly, it’s a very different experience riding off-road to on-road which is where a hybrid bike is so useful, so you’re not limited to either.  Importantly, make sure you’re well hydrated when you start the ride and take a good-sized bottle filled with lightly diluted fruit juice with water.  This will provide a very small amount of carbohydrate to keep energy levels up and help the body rehydrate faster, especially when it’s hot.

What about longer rides?

Cycling for half a day or longer, especially with family and friends is a brilliant way of spending some time outdoors.  Clearly, if it’s a family event, then you need to make sure kids have the right gear, especially helmets, and have had plenty of sun cream applied beforehand (you can even get burnt on cloudy days at this time of year).

View of a woman mountain biking

Take plenty of fluids and be careful not to underestimate the amount you might drink; cycling is really thirsty work, especially if you’re tackling more challenging terrain. It’s also a good idea to have some kind of sports drinks with you, as well as water, as they contain electrolytes plus carbohydrates to help avoid dehydration, especially when it’s hot.

Close up of a cyclists snack pot with dried fruit and nuts

If you’re planning on going out for a while, you’ll also need to take some food with you.  Energising bagels with jam (always a kids’ favourite), muesli bars, bananas dried fruits and nuts are good choices.  Traditional sports bars tend to be loaded with sweeteners so are best avoided if possible unless you’re a competitive cyclist, in which case you’ll need more structured meal replacements.

So, whether you’re out for an hour or a day, any time you can spend on a bike will be beneficial for both mind and body.

Stay well.

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All images: Shutterstock

 

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