You know that old expression, “it’s like riding a bike”?
Everyone remembers riding a bicycle when they were younger. Cycling is not just for kids. Cycling is one of the best ways to get a great workout while tapping into your inner child. Bicycles have been an efficient form of transportation for centuries, in fact, Giovanni Fontana was credited with inventing the first bicycle in 1418 (1). His bicycle looked much different than most bikes today. There are many different types of bicycles on the market right now but for the sake of exercising, there are two types of cycling:
Outdoor Cycling: Outdoor cycling is great for sight-seeing, exercising and transportation. There are a variety of different types of bikes for each purpose but any standard bicycle will work for beginners or if you haven’t touched a bike in twenty years.
In recent years, many cities have acquired programs where affordable bike rental is readily available to everyone, also known as a bicycle sharing system. This is great for everyone to reap the wonderful health benefits of exercising, avoid traffic and obscene parking costs and help reduce carbon emissions that you would otherwise create driving.
The only down-side to outdoor cycling is having less control of the level of difficulty. Map out your path before you hit the trail. Make sure there aren’t too many hills on your path if you are a beginner or be prepared to do a little walking.
Indoor Cycling: Indoor cycling has all of the same health perks as outdoor cycling but is very different than outdoor cycling. You are totally in control of your resistance. Most modern-day indoor cycling equipment have the ability to increase or decrease the resistance as you please, meaning you can make it as easy or as difficult as you want.
Another reason to love indoor cycling is the social interaction. You into a gym or a class where you are able to meet other people who are on the same journey to improve their mood and health. Outdoor cycling too has this ability but it takes a little more effort to scope those types of events out.
The most obvious downside to indoor cycling is that it is indoor. So you can’t do any sight-seeing, exploring, or soaking up any sunlight.
Impressive Benefits of Cycling:
Reducing your risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD): Cycling is a powerful form of aerobic exercise which is associated with:
- Reducing levels of ‘bad’ cholesterols (LDL), increasing levels of ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL) (3).
- Lowering blood pressure in people with hypertension (4).
Improves Muscle Tone. Cycling works several muscle groups within the body including:
- Quadraceps on legs
- Calfs on legs
- Abdominal (core) Muscles
- Dorsiflexors and Plantarflexors in the foot
- Gluteal muscles (your rear)
It is the perfect exercise for people with joint issues. Cycling is a very promising exercise for those burdened with chronic joint pain because this activity relieves the pressure from the muscles and joints in your lower extremities while strengthening them. A study from the Journal of Orthopedic and Sport Physical Therapy studied a group of people with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis. Most of these people actually reported a notable decrease in joint pain and showed an improvement in gait after six weeks of cycling.
It can improve your mood. Depression is the leading cause of disability in the world according to the World Health Organization. Cycling and physical activity in general release endorphins and serotonin in your brain to help combat depression and mood disturbances (5). Outdoor cycling is also a great excuse to get outside and soak up some sunlight (aka vitamin D) which science says a deficiency in is a major risk factor for depression (6).
Things that I learned in an indoor cycling class:
- People are very helpful– Adjusting the seat and working the gears on bikes are not intuitive. I had some trouble with it and I consider myself a pretty tech savvy person. Ask a trainer how to adjust the bike to fit your body. There is a safe way to do it to prevent injuring yourself or straining your muscles. Most gym-goers are really shy, so trainers are usually happy to help you out and chat for a few minutes.
- You can do anything for thirty seconds– There were intervals where the instructor asked us all to shift into third gear. I tried to zone out and go to my happy place, let my body take over. It worked! Before I knew it the thirty seconds was up and I felt great which brings me to my next point.
- It gets easier as you go– at first it is awkward standing up but once you figure out which muscles to use, it gets a lot easier. It involves a little trouble shooting at first but once you feel how to engage your muscles, you won’t be over-working the wrong parts of your body.
- You burn LOTS of calories– I was shocked. I burned approximately 400 calories according to my apple watch and guess what: I wasn’t even going the fastest in the class. The gym I went to had each bike’s rotations per minute on a big projector in the front of the room (RPM meaning how many times are your bike’s wheels turning per minute). In fact, I was going the slowest. No shame. Everyone has to start somewhere.
- It’s all about the music– Get your ear phones out and find a playlist that gets you moving. Trust me, music really makes a huge difference. If you are in a class, you might not have that much control over this one but most instructors are good about playing pump-up music.