There’s no thrill like the buzz you got when you first learned to bike. Pedalling away madly, with the wind rushing through your hair – that rush of riding a bike for the first time is incomparable. However, riding a bike is always fun. The thrill settles down, but the exercise and the fresh air are always a guarantee. And biking or cycling, whatever you may call it, is good for physical, physiological and mental health -- for a healthy mind makes for a healthy body and vice versa.
The physical benefits of pedaling
Any exercise is good exercise, right? Not really. Exercise has to be chosen with care, taking into consideration fitness levels, age and any other pre-existing medical or health issues. Cycling is a low-impact exercise since it’s easy on the joints. Short of any falls and spills, it doesn’t cause injuries or physical stress. While this is one reason to keep your feet on those pedals, here are several more fitness-related ones…
- Cardiovascular benefits: Cycling in itself is a cardiovascular exercise – it speeds up the heartbeat, improves circulation and increases lung power. Consequentially, cycling provides long-term as well as short-term heart health benefits by strengthening the heart muscles as well as the respiratory and circulatory systems of the body.
- Endorphin high: As is with any exercise, cycling floods the body with endorphins. Endorphins are the body’s natural stress busters – they give you a feel-good high and bring down anxiety levels.
- Joint mobility: Cycling involves a lot of motor coordination as well as balancing. All in all, it strengthens bones and makes the joints more flexible, thereby also easing the stiffness associated with joint problems such as arthritis and rheumatism.
- Posture and motor coordination: You have to sit on a bike in a certain way to maintain your balance – this is beneficial for the back and the body’s overall posture.
- Weight loss and decreased body fat: Cycling is a good way to burn calories. Thirty minutes of intense cycling can burn 250 to 300 calories which means that everyday cycling can turn into an efficient method for targeted fat and weight loss.
- Low risk of injury or strain: Other than a spill or two that may lead to a few bruises and aches, cycling is a low risk exercise in that it doesn’t cause any excessive strain or fatigue. This makes it a perfect exercise to take up at any age.
- Overall stamina: The increased lung capacity along with optimal heart function leads to increased stamina – making you less tired and more efficient all day long.
- Stress buster & immunity booster: The feel-good factor of exercise, coupled with being around nature, lowers stress levels considerably. Reduced levels of stress are also said to be related to better immunity. If you are stress free, your body is better able to cope with environmental and physiological factors around you, making you more resistant to diseases as well as lifestyle-related health issues.
- Strengthened bones and muscles: The overall motor coordination as well as muscle strength needed to pedal your way forward, particularly on rough or inclined roads, make cycling a great way make you leaner with stronger bones and muscles.
- Better prevention and management of disease: Exercising is good for the mind, body and soul in many ways. Once you increase your heart, lung and circulatory health, lose some weight and convert that fat into muscle, you automatically end up preventing a host of lifestyle-related diseases. Cycling also provides many mental health benefits as well as increased levels of fitness, thereby also letting you manage any pre-existing health issues more effectively. Also, a healthy body gives way for a healthier mind.
The mental benefits of pedaling
Cycling is not just about physical health – it’s also great for the mind and in so, for the soul. Listed below are some of the mental benefits of pedaling away.
- Reduces stress: By making you healthier, fitter and somewhat relaxed, cycling aids in decreasing stress levels, thereby making your mind a calmer, more productive think-tank.
- Aids in depression management: Be it the lowered stress levels or the endorphin high, cycling actually helps people with depression in managing their symptoms and mood swings better.
- Provides better sleep: The reduced stress levels in the body are due to a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol interferes with a body’s sleep cycle, so those who burn more of it end up having a more restorative and restful sleep.
- Improves memory: Being stress-free and happy makes the hippocampus – the part of your brain responsible for regeneration and memory – make more brain cells. This provides you with better memory and mental acuity.
- Gives you a positive high: If you cycle instead of commuting by fuel, you reduce your carbon footprint. This is enough to feel a sense of achievement and pride, rightly earned.
- Cures mental block: Cycling is one good way to get those creative juices flowing – it clears the mind and slows you down – curing any and all mental blocks.
- Is a positive addiction: We all have different mechanisms to cope with stress and very often tend to head the wrong way about it. Smoking, drinking, emotional eating and nervous tics are the body’s way to deal with a downhill spiral. Cycling, on the other hand, becomes a positive addiction – it helps you reduce stress while providing you with a host of other benefits.
- Boosts productivity: A clear, sharp mind coupled with a fit and healthy body boosts productivity at your workplace and home, too. This way, you enter a positive cycle of reaffirmation.
- Makes you happy: You’ll never frown while cycling -- not for long anyway. Cycling taps into the positive memories of childhood, and so invariably will lead you into a better frame of mind.
- Makes you healthy: Finally, we may be repeating ourselves, but it’s true; a healthy mind leads to a healthy body.
Cycling or biking does have manifold benefits – so there’s no reason to avoid getting on the bike – whether you’re a seasoned cyclist or a newbie. Just remember, the right bike for you is the one you can sit comfortably on, with your feet firmly planted on the ground. If your feet are dangling, then the cycle is probably too big for you (or the seat could be too high). The right-sized bike along with safety gear such as helmets and joint pads can eliminate the risk of injury even further, making it a safe way to get back on the path to mental and physical fitness.