You probably already know that cycling is good for you—any exercise is better than no exercise, right? But did you know that riding a bike offers a whole host of additional health benefits besides the physical perks? Aside from using your rides to get in the recommended 150 minutes of weekly exercise, there are tons of other health benefits you get by spending more time in the saddle. Here’s what happens to your body when you cycle. These 11 health benefits of cycling will make you happier, healthier, and more stoked to keep riding.
1. More Brainpower
A study conducted by Charles Hillman showed that and helps to stave off Alzheimer’s in the elderly. Another study published in Pediatrics showed that kids are even more positively impacted by time on the bike—and that exercise can help control issues like attention deficit disorder.
2. Faster Recovery
A recent study found that elderly patients with knee pain and osteoarthritis actually improved their condition when cycling was introduced to their routines, proving that as we get older, taking time to exercise—even just spinning a few minutes a day—can be hugely beneficial.
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3. Improved Heart Health
Cycling is also great for your heart—although not just because you love riding so much (though that’s a great reason, too!). A recent study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise spent five years looking at the activity of 1,500 subjects. Those who were active on a daily basis were 31 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure. Another study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that getting in a hard workout can lower high blood pressure as much as prescription meds can. Don’t ditch your meds just yet, but do consider adding more sweaty rides to your training plan with the approval of your doctor.
[Find 52 weeks of tips and motivation, with space to fill in your mileage and favorite routes, with the Bicycling Training Journal.]
4. Sexier Vibes
Best news ever: You aren’t the only one who thinks spandex are super hot. A survey of 600 men and women commissioned by The British Heart Foundation found that cyclists were perceived as 13 percent more intelligent and cooler than other people, and a whopping 23 percent said a cyclist would be their preferred blind-date athlete.
5. Less Fat
It shouldn’t really come as a surprise that weight loss is one of the big benefits of regular cycling, but it bears repeating. The media is often quick to promote the idea that diet is the only way to actually shed fat, but science shows otherwise.
Recent studies have shown that older, diabetic women could only drop visceral fat (harmful fat that can increase risk of heath problem such as heart attack, stroke, and type 2 diabetes) if exercise, along with diet, was introduced into their routine. And, a study published in the Journal of Hepatology found that aerobic exercise (like cycling) helped overweight and obese participants drop visceral fat.
6. Lowered Risk of Cancer
Maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise, and a conscientious diet (think: lots of leafy greens, lean proteins and healthy grains) all help lower your risk of cancer. And a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association recently looked at nearly 14,000 men and concluded that those with a higher fitness level as they approached middle age were at a lower risk for lung and colorectal cancer.
7. Higher Self-Esteem
It’s no surprise that exercise in general (and cycling in particular) helps improve your self-esteem. The next time you take the perfect , score that Strava QOM or KOM you’ve been chasing, or finish a really hard workout, your body will release a whole bunch of feel-great hormones that will make you feel like you can take over the world.
8. A Longer Life
According to one study ofriders, cycling actually increased the racer’s longevity. On average, the former pros lived to 81.5 years compared to the general population’s 73.5 years: a 17 percent increase!
Another study suggested that even casual bike commuters benefit: For individuals who shift from car to bicycle, it was estimated that three to 14 months of life could be gained compared to the potential downsides of bike commuting. Another recent study showed that riding between just one and 60 minutes a week could cut the risk of early death by up to 23 percent.
9. Lowered Risk of Parkinson’s Disease
Cycling’s disease-fighting benefits include warding off Parkinson’s Disease (PD). A recent study found that vigorous exercise can lower the risk of PD in men. (There still needs to be more research done for women.)
The study suggests you need about 20 hours per week to see benefits, meaning that putting in just three hours of riding at 10 to 12 mph each week can help you reduce your risk. Plus, more exercise on top of that can only benefit you more.
10. Slowed Aging
Researchers found that high-intensity cycling (and other high-intensity interval training) can have major anti-aging benefits down to the cellular level. The study found that people who did high-intensity exercises had an increase in mitochondrial capacity. A decline in mitochondria can lead to physical decline, so the better your mitochondria can function, the more rejuvenated you will be—all the way down to a cellular level.
11. Less Stress
Everyone knows that exercise can help reduce stress, but a recent study in the Lancet of over one million (!) participants confirmed that cycling is one of the top stress-busting activities. Riders enjoyed 21.6 percent fewer days of poor mental health compared to those who didn’t ride. This was only second to team sports (22.3 percent), and above other aerobic and gym activities. Simply making your rides group rides can help you reap the social benefits of a team sport and increase the amount of good days you have.