World Bicycle Day is on June 3rd, and there’s no time like the present to celebrate the health benefits of cycling.
Feeling happier, building muscle tone, sleeping better, and being able to enjoy an extra muffin — these are just some of the benefits of regular cycling.
Kate Tattersfield pedals through 11 research-backed ways cycling can improve our mental and physical wellness.
June 3rd is World Bicycle Day. The United Nations decided to dedicate a day to the humble two-wheeled mode of transport in 2018, giving us the opportunity to celebrate the numerous benefits cycling bestows on the individual and society.
“Acknowledging the uniqueness, longevity and versatility of the bicycle, which has been in use for two centuries, and that it is a simple, affordable, reliable, clean and environmentally fit [and] sustainable means of transportation, fostering environmental stewardship and health, the General Assembly decided to declare 3 June World Bicycle Day.” – UN.org
In honour of #WorldBicycleDay2021, we’re taking a ride (sorry) through the top 11 wellness benefits associated with cycling to work.
If you’ve got a bike hidden away somewhere, why not dig it out, dust it off, pump it up and give it a whirl?
Here are 11 benefits of cycling to work, according to researchers:
1. You’ll be happier in work (and out)
Research by the YMCA has confirmed what cyclists already know: cycling makes people happier. The researchers studied 1,000 adults in the UK, investigating numerous factors that affect wellbeing, such as being optimistic (or not) about the future.
After collecting responses, the researchers analysed the relationship between people’s answers and their lifestyle. They found that those with a physically active lifestyle had a wellbeing score 32 per cent higher than those with an inactive lifestyle.
Cycling, as with all forms of exercise, releases endorphins which trigger positive feelings. Commuting by bike also gives people the time and space to process what’s on their mind – or helps them take their mind off any worries or concerns for a while.
2. You’ll be brainier too
If you’re feeling a little lacklustre in the problem solving department, get on your bike. The University of Illinois found that a 5 per cent improvement in cardio-respiratory ﬁtness from cycling led to an improvement of up to 15 per cent in mental tests.
It’s all to do with the part of the brain called the hippocampus, which looks after memory. Our memory can deteriorate with age, but cycling – and exercise in general – helps us build new brain cells. The study’s author, Professor Arthur Kramer, explains:
“It boosts blood ﬂow and oxygen to the brain, which ﬁres and regenerates receptors, explaining how exercise helps ward off Alzheimer’s.”
3. …And more balanced
Cycling has the power to stimulate the central nervous system’s motor regions, activating the cerebral cortex. This can help with things like motor learning and balance. It can also improve our core stability, making us less likely to trip and injure ourselves at work.
4. Cycling’s conducive to creativity
Researchers at the University of Graz looked at the effect of regular exercise on the human imagination and discovered a relationship between healthy lifestyles, positive mood and creative thinking.
Unsurprisingly, people with active lifestyles were more creative than people who were more sedentary. According to one theory, the endorphins and increased blood flow associated with regular exercise can help spark original or abstract thoughts.
5. It boosts your cardiovascular function
Aerobic exercises (like cycling) work out our heart, lungs and blood vessels.
Those of us who manage to keep up our exercise regimes experience a reduced blood pressure and resting heart rate. Consistency is key, which is why cycling to work is so great.
It can be hard to drag yourself out of bed that bit earlier to begin with, but once you’re in the routine of cycling from A to B, it’s much easier.
6. You’ll build muscle strength and tone
As well as improving your cardiovascular fitness, cycling to work can help you build muscle – particularly your calves, glutes and quads. It’s possible to tone your upper body too, especially if you stand up in the saddle when cycling up those pesky hills.
7. Extra muffin? Go on then.
One benefit of having more muscle mass is that it’s easier to burn fat.
King’s College London compared over 2,400 identical twins and discovered that those who did the equivalent of three 45-minute cycle rides a week were nine years ‘biologically younger’ than those who didn’t – even after discounting BMI and smoking.
“Those who exercise regularly are at significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, all types of cancer, high blood pressure and obesity,” explained Dr Lynn Cherkas, who carried out the research.
“The body becomes much more efficient at defending itself and regenerating new cells.”
(Don’t forget to wear sunscreen, though.)
9. Your focus will be flawless
Building exercise into your daily routine can help you become an all-round better worker. A study of 200 employees by the University of Bristol found that employees who exercised before work or at lunch improved their time and workload management.
Those who cycle experience greater benefits due to the longer distances covered and the intensity of riding a bicycle compared with walking.
The exercisers were also more motivated and able to deal with stress, reported better interpersonal performance, took fewer breaks and, importantly, found it easier to finish work on time.
10. It reduces the risk of heart disease and cancer
A long-term study conducted by the University of Glasgow shows that commuting to work by bike can significantly cut the risk of conditions like heart disease and cancer.
“Cycling all or part of the way to work was associated with substantially lower risk of adverse health outcomes. Those who cycled the full length of their commute had an over 40 per cent lower risk of heart disease, cancer and overall mortality over the five years of follow-up,” said Dr. Jason Gill of the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences.
The researchers also analysed walking, and although walking to work is certainly beneficial, those who cycle experience greater benefits, due to the longer distances covered and the intensity of riding a bicycle versus walking.
11. You’ll get a better night’s sleep
It’s no secret that sleeping better helps us perform better at work. It also doesn’t come as a surprise that exercising more can help us get more shut-eye.
In a 35-year-long study, the University of Georgia analysed a group of men and women between the ages of 20 and 85. Researchers found that a decline in fitness of 2 per cent for men and 4 per cent for women resulted in sleep issues.