Why You May Want to Cycle Your Way Through Life
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
In the Netherlands, there are reportedly more bicycles than there are residents.
One study that was published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that in the Netherlands cycling prevents about 6,500 deaths each year, and that Dutch people have half a year longer life expectancy due to cycling. The study involved analyzing cycling levels of Dutch people in different age groups.
“The time spent cycling was about 74 minutes per week for Dutch adults aged 20 to 90 years. This level of cycling was fairly stable over adulthood and reached its peak around 65 to 70 years, in early days of retirement, and strongly declined after age 80 years. The mortality rate reduction, which was a direct result of the average time spent cycling for a certain age group, was therefore also highest between 65 and 70 years.”
Sounds pretty good to me!
And it’s not just the Netherlands that are seeing the benefits of cycling. A recent study conducted in New Zealand found evidence which suggested that people who biked to work had a 13 percent reduction in mortality.
“There was no reduction in mortality for those who walked or took public transport to work,” according to one report discussing the study.
This isn’t to say that walking is not good for us, but what is it exactly about cycling that potentially makes it so beneficial?
Obviously, cycling is a form of exercise. It is a great form of cardio (also called aerobic) exercise, which gets your heart pumping and helps strengthen the heart muscle. Doing cardio may also help lower your blood pressure.
Cycling may also be good for our mental health.
Perhaps what many people overlook though are the mental benefits of cycling. There is credible evidence which suggests that cycling may sharpen your thinking and improve your mood. Various studies cited by Psychology Today suggest that "practicing pedaling on a regular basis increased the integrity of white matter fiber tracts in both healthy and schizophrenic brains."
So any activity, such as cycling, that keeps white matter healthy may be great for helping prevent cognitive issues such as dementia.
"Even younger adults often claim that a bike ride helps shift their thinking into high gear — and research backs them up. In one small study, healthy, young men pedaled a stationary bike at moderate intensity for 30 minutes. They also completed a series of cognitive tests before and afterward. After cycling, they scored higher on memory, reasoning and planning, and they were able to finish the tests more rapidly than before."
People who biked also reported that they had a less negative mood.
(The American Heart Association recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity. So commuting to work by bike is a great way to get some of these minutes in during the week).
In addition to this, Harvard Health outlines five specific benefits of cycling:
- It’s gentle on the joints. Cycling is an effective but also low impact workout. This is great for people with joint pain or who experience stiffness due to older age.
- Cycling builds muscle. “In the power phase of pedaling (the downstroke), you use the gluteus muscles in the buttocks, the quadriceps in the thighs, and the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles in the calves. In the recovery phase (backstroke, up-stroke, and overstroke), you use the hamstrings in the back of the thighs and the flexor muscles in the front of the hips,” reports Harvard. You also use your core, arm and shoulder muscles. As we age we naturally lose muscle, so exercises that work muscles and build them is imperative.
- As mentioned, cycling is a great aerobic workout. This can benefit the heart, brain and blood vessels. Aerobic workouts may also help keep depression away.
- Pedaling builds bone. “Resistance activities, such as pushing pedals, pull on the muscles, and then the muscles pull on the bone, which increases bone density," said a doctor referenced in the Harvard report.
- Cycling may help with other activities in your life. “The benefits carry over to balance, walking, standing, endurance, and stair climbing," said the doctor. This all may help prevent falls due to age-related muscle loss.
Pedal at your own pace.
Another great aspect of cycling is that you can do what you can. Perhaps you are a marathon biker, or maybe you just bike to and from work. You may enjoy biking outside on the weekends if the weather permits, or you may prefer riding a stationary bike indoors to avoid traffic. Whatever it may be, cycle away.
How to power up for pedaling.
As with any exercise, nutrition is key.
“Both the serious competitive cyclist as well as the recreational cyclist should eat a balanced diet that provides calories adequate to meet energy demands. Athletes consuming less than 2000 calories a day may have difficulty meeting nutrient needs, particularly for iron and calcium,” reports the National Institutes of Health.
“Weight loss, glycogen depletion, and dehydration also are possible results of an inadequate diet. Dietary strategies to enhance or maintain the body's carbohydrate stores are necessary for performance, especially for cyclists with high training miles or participating in road racing and other endurance events.”
Healthy, nutrient-rich foods that can enhance or maintain the body’s carbohydrate stores include starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes and squash, beans, lentils, peas, whole grains such as oatmeal, bananas and carrots.
Protein is another key nutrient for cycling.
I don’t play favorites with my nutrients (water, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and protein are all equally important to our health and wellbeing), but protein is a really incredible nutrient.
Getting an adequate intake of protein may help with muscle repair and recovery after working out, and it may help delay sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss). The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. However, keep in mind that if you are an endurance athlete you may need more protein. Older adults may also need more protein. Speak with a competent healthcare professional about your physical activity levels and diet needs.
With cycling, it’s important to stay hydrated and maintain a balance of all the essential vitamins and minerals. For specific nutrients that may help fuel you for cycling and help you recover after, click here. It is also important to take regular nutrient tests in order to determine if you have any nutritional imbalances or deficiencies.
If you do, a competent healthcare professional can work with you on making the necessary dietary changes and recommend quality supplements if necessary. You might also want to consider taking advantage of IV vitamin drips or injections. These are great for hydration and getting the nutrients you need.
I’m also a firm believer in recovering from physical activity with cryotherapy. Whole-body cryotherapy speeds up injury recovery, relieves pain and soreness, reduces lactic acids, helps inflammation, decreases spasms, releases endorphins and improves range of motion.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.