Cycling isn’t only spandex shorts, sore bums, and lengthy road rides. Rather, hopping on a bike includes building up cardiovascular health, relieving daily stressors, and finding your own uplifting community. Honestly, that's only the beginning of the benefits of cycling. Whether you're on a stationary indoor bike or cruising along outside, this sport has so much to offer for your mental and physical health with each pedal stroke you take.
“Cycling can serve as a release mentally, emotionally, and physically,” says Karen Maxwell, CPT, director of training at Cyclebar. “It’s an excellent, low-impact fitness option that promotes fat loss, improves heart health, boosts muscle endurance, and provides a rigorous workout for your legs.”
Meet the experts:
Karen Maxwell, CPT, is an ACE-certified personal trainer and the director of training at CycleBar, an indoor cycling studio. She's also a former D1 athlete and ISSA certified sports science nutritionist.
Olivia Amato, CPT, is a certified personal trainer and Peloton instructor, who left Wall Street to become a full-time fitness pro.
Read on to learn about all the benefits of cycling, whether you're pedaling outside or hopping in the saddle inside, all according to expert trainers.
12 Benefits Of Cycling
1. Low impact and welcoming for beginners.
Since cycling is a non-weight bearing, low-impact activity, you aren’t adding any extra pressure or intensity to your joints, tendons, or ligaments. Because of this, cycling is ideal for those who are new to exercising in general, people who are injured or need rehabilitation, or people who have degenerative joints, according to Current Sports Medicine Reports. As with any new activity, always consult your physician before starting. “Regardless of fitness level, cycling is an accessible cardio regimen,” says Maxwell, “that can cater to both seasoned athletes and beginners that are embarking on their fitness journey.”
2. Build muscle strength.
“Cycling truly is a full-body workout,” says Maxwell. “Building muscle and strength through cycling correlates with how much resistance you put on the bike (when indoors) or how steep the incline is (when outdoors).” To amp up the strength training, add in resistance or incline to build those lower body muscles. Your upper body — like arms and core — are always at work, too, when cycling, since you use them for balance and stability while on the bike. Indoor stationary cycling does in fact increase leg strength (and balance, too), studies say.
3. Improve heart health.
Cycling is considered an aerobic exercise, which means its main benefit is working out your heart, blood vessels, and lungs. That’s because, according to The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), aerobic exercise is any activity that uses large muscle groups (check!), can be done continuously (check!) and in a rhythmic nature (check!). So everytime you get on the bike, you are working toward better heart health.
“When you are consistent, cycling increases your endurance, too, which allows you to hold higher levels of activity for a longer period of time,” says Olivia Amato, a certified personal trainer and Peloton instructor.
4. Explore new music.
The combination of endorphin release and uplifting music in indoor cycling classes like Cyclebar provides an immediate mood lift, says Maxwell. “You can walk into a class feeling stressed and walk out feeling as though a weight has been lifted off your shoulders,” Maxwell says. When you sweat to music, you’ll even see increased stamina, according to the National Center for Health Research.
5. Reduce CO2 emissions.
As you feel more and more confident in your cycling skills, commuting to work or to run errands will seem like much less of a chore and much more of an adventure. Plus, folks who commute via cycling had 84 percent lower CO2 emissions than non-cyclists, studies show. Added bonus: You save on gas money!
6. Boost joint health.
The benefits of cycling are two-fold for your joints, according to the Arthritis Foundation. You aren’t pounding on or stressing your joints repeatedly, but you are also helping strengthen the muscles that support your knees, ankles, and feet.
7. Connect with a new social circle.
Setting out on a long ride is way more fun with other people, and there are no shortages of cycling groups to join—beginners, women-only, BIPOC, and road, gravel, or mountain biking groups are all available. Plus, every human needs that feeling of belonging. In fact, the CDC states that having strong social connections can decrease your risk of heart disease, stroke, dementia, and depression and anxiety.
The list doesn’t stop there though—social connections can promote healthy habits and physical activity, and even help you sleep better. “Working out or riding with others helps us stay committed and create relationships with like-minded people,” Maxwell says. Plus, even at indoor studios, like Cyclebar, you can find a group or team that rides outside together as well.
8. More time outside.
Even if you are cruising on a casual ride, getting outside and breathing in that fresh air has so many benefits. Greenspace exposure can lead to less cortisol (the pesky stress hormone), decreased blood pressure, a lower heart rate, and even less HDL cholesterol levels, according to a study in Environmental Research.
9. Pump up feel-good hormones.
Cruising down a hill with wind whipping your hair out of your face is a sure way to get your heart pumping and not just from the workout. Push yourself heading up those hills, but have even more fun heading down. Ready for a different challenge? Try mountain biking with even more features, views, and skills to learn. Getting those post-ride endorphins really adds to her excitement and a healthy mind, Amato says. “Cycling helps increase your overall mental well being by decreasing stress, increasing your mood and self esteem, and encouraging mindfulness by allowing you to focus on the hard work you are doing for yourself in the present moment,” she says.
10. Help with weight loss.
According to a 2018 study in the European Journal of Obesity, participants who cycled for one and a half hours a week or more were found to have a lower body weight than non-cyclists. And if they cycled even more throughout the week? The study found that waist circumference and body fat percentage were lower when the duration of cycling was higher. Amato notes, too, that cycling is an efficient workout for those who might be short on time. “It can be helpful for those with a hectic lifestyle,” she says, “since a workout can be done in as short as a 10- to 15-minute HIIT ride.”
11. Better sex life.
It's true! Being active can improve your sex life overall, studies show. Biking seems to offer an added boost in this arena, too. After women did 20 minutes of stationary cycling, they had a higher state of arousal than those who did not exercise, one specific study found.
12. Effective cross-training.
“Not only does cycling excel in building endurance, but indoor cycling can also serve as an effective HIIT workout, bolstering aerobic capacity, fostering muscle growth, and stimulating the production of fat-burning enzymes and hormones,” says Maxwell. So if you need a break from your regular running schedule or strength-training routine, hop on the bike!
13. Reduce risk of disease.
There is ample research linking cycling with a lower risk of multiple diseases. For starters, commuting to work via bike regularly is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and premature death, according to a 2017 study.
What's more, both cycling for commuting and for exercise are consistently associated with diminished risk of type 2 diabetes, according to a 2016 study of Danish adults. People who cycle for 30 minutes, five days a week take about half the sick days compared to sedentary counterparts, according to research from the University of North Carolina. Finally, people who regularly travel by bike live longer, healthier lives, according to a study published in Sports Medicine.
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