Did you know bike riding can boost your brainpower, relationships, health and happiness? Taking up bicycle riding could be one of the best decisions you ever make! Here are a few of the wonderful health benefits of cycling:
Obesity and weight control
Cycling is a great way to lose weight, as it raises your metabolic rate, builds muscle and burns body fat. Cycling burns between 400 and 1000 calories per hour, depending on intensity and rider weight.
Reduces cardiovascular disease
Regular cycling stimulates and improves your heart, lungs and circulation, reducing your risk of cardiovascular diseases such as stroke, high blood pressure and heart attacks.
Many researchers have studied the relationship between exercise and cancer discovering that if you cycle regularly the chances of developing bowel cancer is significantly reduced.
The rate of type 2 diabetes is increasing and a lack of exercise is thought to be a major reason why people are developing this condition. Large-scale research in Finland found that people who cycled for more than 30 minutes per day had a 40% lower risk of developing diabetes.
The resistance element of cycling means that as well as burning fat, it also builds muscle - particularly around the glutes, hamstrings, quads and calves. Muscle is leaner than fat, so people with a higher percentage of muscle burn more calories even when sedentary.
It probably goes without saying that tiring yourself out on the bike will promote better sleep. Cycling calms anxiety, and anxiety is a symptom that you may not be sleeping enough in the first place. “Exercise can calm anxiety, which is one key cause of insomnia,” says Dishman. He hypothesizes that a positive effect on brain serotonin circuits - which occur naturally with exercise and are mimicked in some long-term sleep aids.
Boosts brain power
Exercise has been repeatedly linked to brain health – and the reduction of cognitive changes that can leave us vulnerable to dementia later in life.
A 2013 study found that during exercise, cyclists’ blood flow in the brain rose by 28 per cent, and up to 70 per cent in specific areas. Not only that, but after exercise, in some areas blood flow remained up by 40 per cent even after exercise.
Improves mental well-being
There are so many ways that exercise can boost your mood: there’s the basic release of adrenalin and endorphins, and the improved confidence that comes from achieving new things. Cycling combines physical exercise with being outdoors and exploring new views. You can ride solo – giving you time to process worries or concerns, or you can ride with a group, which broadens your social circle.
Getting your body set up for biking
Whilst there’s much money to be spent out there on getting your bike set up right, there are equally important principles to getting your body set up right too, especially if you want to remain injury free.
For a long while now there has been much talk of upper body strengthening and core strengthening exercises, all of which are very valid. However, the one element that is often missing is the way your body patterns are set up and how well they function.
All too often we are completely unaware of how bad our movement patterns are, in which case strengthening them will only allow us to use them badly more strongly! Small asymmetries and deviations out of the normal planes from front to back and side to side, can have a huge effect on efficiency and power to cyclist and also increase their risk of injury.
There are some very simple principles that the discerning cyclist should follow:
- Train to keep the pelvis level in a consistent position by accessing the gluteal muscles in the buttock.
- Learn to flex the hip without bending the spine from side to side.
- Learn how to keep the knee aligned with their hip.
A secure trunk, with low-effort abdominal activity, will allow you to breathe normally as you cycle. Compressing the body in a sprint situation will give you a short-term blast of power, but this strategy cannot be sustained in long road races. Therefore, those engaging in these longer events should develop independent trunk control so that they are not over-dependent on their arms for stability and so that they do not restrict their rib cage expansion by overusing the oblique abdominal muscles.
A selection of typical injuries might be:
Achilles tendonitis (tendinopathy) – This is an overuse injury resulting in pain weakness, localised swelling and stiffness and is caused by repeated micro trauma to the tendon. Other causes of Achilles tendonitis are poor bike set up and improper position of shoe cleats.
Knee Pain – The knee is the most common site for overuse injuries in cycling. Patellofemoral syndrome (cyclist's knee), patella and quandriceps tendinitis, and iliotibial band friction syndrome are a few of the more common knee overuse injuries. The first three mentioned involve pain around the kneecap, while the last condition results in outer knee pain.
Broken Clavicle or Scaphoid – These two bones are the most commonly broken during a crash. The clavicle (collarbone) and the scaphoid (carpal bone at the base of the thumb) are the weak points that absorb impact when the arm is extended to brace during a fall.
Saddle Sores – Cycling long hours in the saddle causes friction of your sit bones against the seat. Old shorts and having your saddle too high are also common causes.
Lower Back Pain – Poor bike set up and long hours in an aggressive riding position are the major culprits, leading to lower back pain from cycling. Excessive flexion in the lumbar region of the spine can lead to more serious conditions involving nerve entrapment and sciatica, which require medical attention. Read more here.
Neck Pain – Pain in the neck often involves tightness in the upper trapezius muscle found in the neck and shoulder. These muscles commonly become fatigued during cycling from having to hold the weight of the head in extension for long periods of time. Poor bike set up, can cause pain so make sure you see a good bike fitting expert. Also, reduce tensing the shoulder muscles by loosening your grip on the handlebars and relax the shoulder muscles to prevent fatigue and tightness.
Wrist/Forearm Pain or Numbness – Two common wrist overuse injuries, Cyclist's Palsy and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, often due to sustaining pressure through the wrists / hand with straight arms, and therefore putting pressure through the nerves in hand and wrist.
If you experience any of these common injuries we can give you advice at the centre so please contact us.
By Jane Morris, Owner of the Centre for Complementary Health
For more information on Bike Week see http://bikeweek.org.uk/