Ever since the training wheels came off our bicycles at a young age, we were pushed into freedom, adventure and delight, and once you learn, you never forget. But now that you’re older, like everything else in life, riding seems more complicated – by worrying about traffic or utilizing more equipment, but cycling today is not much different than those earlier days, and the activity can help you lose weight, build endurance and elevate your mood.
Cycling is a non-impact activity that is associated with improved cardiovascular fitness. It gets your heart pumping and your legs moving without the risk of pounding your joints. It’s great for toning and building your muscles – calves, thighs, glutes, even your neck and shoulders. A relaxing bike ride burns more calories than an easy walk (approx. 281 calories vs. 176 calories per hour). The key to achieving optimal fitness results on a bike is all about maintaining a steady rhythm, by consistently pedaling, rather than alternating between pedaling and coasting. To do that, you need to seek out long stretches of road, ones with a low volume of traffic, if possible. A great example of this would be the Orlando Southeast Trail – a 13-mile long, 12 ft. wide trail which serves several neighborhoods, including the community of Northlake Park at Lake Nona, with safety, convenience and scenic diversity. To find trails near you, you can consult with your local bike shop or club or even find them using a website such as Trail Link.
If you’re just starting out again, it’s good to start out slowly. Commit to a minimum of two weekday rides on flat-terrain for 30 to 40 minutes for the first three to four weeks. You can always gradually increase the intensity of your ride, distance, and type of terrain you traverse on later. In the meantime, take the time to learn and master your cadence while riding (the number of revolutions of the crank per minute, counting one leg). For the average rider, somewhere between 70 and 100 rpm is a good speed to maintain while riding. And by keeping your cadence consistent, it provides steady cardiovascular training without potential harm to your joints. After the initial month period, you can begin to vary your workout by adding in intervals of quick accelerations that last anywhere between 30 seconds to five minutes or by climbing hills, both which can add strength work into your aerobic ride.
Mental Health Benefits
Studies have shown that cycling can lead to improvements in your mental health. In the time spent turning the crank, rich, new capillary beds develop within your brain, which means more oxygen and nutrients generated to help it work. You also force more nerve cells to ignite which intensifies the creation of proteins which double or triple the production of neurons, literally building your brain. Neurotransmitters are also then released, allowing brain cells to communicate with each other for improved functioning, sharper memory skills, higher concentration/problem solving ability, and more fluid thinking. One study in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research showed that people had completed memory, reasoning, and planning tests faster and scored higher after 30 minutes of pedaling on a stationary bike than they did before they rode.
Cycling has been linked to mood elevation, anxiety relief, and an increase in your stress resistance, all by boosting the levels of feel-good chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine and other mood-lifting chemicals like endorphins and cannabinoids. A recent study suggests that 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic riding, at roughly 75 percent of your maximum heart rate, three to five times a week can achieve this effect. Riding your bike on a regular basis helps to keep your levels of adrenaline and cortisol in check, which means you’ll feel less stress and capable of bouncing back from anxiety-filled situations more easily.
Tips on Better Cycling
When choosing the right bike for you, it isn’t about the brand or model, but the fit. And it’s not just about having the bike seat at hip-height. Other variables matter, such as the tilt of your seat, the height of your handlebars, and how far forward you have to reach to grasp the pegs, all of which affect where pressure is felt on the body. If you can, get a professional bike fitting done at a cycling shop. Some offer free fittings with new bike purchases or have fit services available for older bikes.
Safety should be a critical component in cycling. In low-light conditions, at minimum, be sure to wear bright-colored, reflective clothing and put reflective tape on your bike and helmet. The helmet itself should also be brightly-colored, fit snugly and meet all required safety standards. If you want to go the extra mile, you can install a strong headlight and a strobe-type, red blinking light to affix to the back of the bike. Avoid riding at night.
Use good road sense – ride with traffic, give right of way to vehicles and pedestrians, use hand signals and obey signs. Stay out of drivers’ blind spots and make eye contact with them as you pull into an intersection or make a turn, so they know your intentions and you know that they’ve seen you. Don’t ride side-by-side with another cyclist and be vigilant for road hazards.
As you get used to cycling for long distances, learn to have fun with it. Plan a destination ride to the next town over where there’s a great lunch-spot or plan a scenic road trip complete with a picnic spot. Part of the joy of cycling is to ride along with others. Recruit friends or family members or try joining a bike shop or club ride. Just be sure to look for outings that are tailored for beginners at first.
Cycling is one of the easiest ways to exercise, helps to improve cardiovascular fitness, builds stamina, increases muscle tone and improves heart and mental health. You can ride almost anywhere, at any time of the year, and without spending a fortune. And all you need is a bike, a half-hour here or there, and the confidence and the drive to improve your life.