Bespoke’s Chair, Mrs Scarlett McNally, BSc MB BChir FRCS(Eng) FRCS(Tr&Orth) MA – Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon, shares some of the known health benefits of cycling and explains why there really is no better exercise.
We know that we should be getting 30 minutes’ exercise three times per week, but how many of us actually do this? Like bad habits, good habits need to be something that we do at a certain time, or with certain cues (2). We need to give ourselves incentives to form good habits (3).
Nutrition and metabolism
- Cycling burns calories, speeds up metabolism, and reduces risk of diabetes by 50% (1, 2, 4, 5).
- Cycling reduces your chance of dying of a heart attack or stroke by 22% (4).
- Regular exercise reduces your cholesterol (2, 4).
- Exercise reduces hypertension (high blood pressure) (2, 4).
- Weight loss due to exercise has a separate, additional, benefit (2, 4).
Looking and feeling good, slowing down ageing
- Regular cyclists enjoy a fitness level equal to that of a person 10 years younger (1).
- It is cheaper than joining a gym.
- It tones your buttock muscles and thighs.
- Cycling is good for stamina and strength.
- Being fit reduces stress.
- “Seasonally Adjusted Depression”. This is treated by daily natural light (30 minutes per day is recommended).
- Vitamin D. The best source of Vitamin D is from the action of sunlight on the skin. (20 minutes per day is recommended.) Many of us have “Vitamin D insufficiency”. Low Vitamin D levels lead to weaker bones, joint and muscle aches, fatigue, muscle weakness and increased risk of osteoporosis, of balance problems and of breast and colon cancer. If you feel too weak to do exercise, the answer may be to take more exercise and get more exposure to daylight.
- Cycling is good for keeping joints supple.
- It is useful as it is “closed-chain” exercise, meaning you are not jarring your joints with sudden impact.
- It off-loads the knees, particularly, so that you are exercising without taking your whole body weight through them.
- Exercise is the best way of maintaining bone mineral density. “Osteoporosis” is low bone mineral density.
- Thousands of people in the UK die every year after breaking a bone in a low energy fall (eg Hip Fracture) resulting from years of low bone density (often with low levels of vitamin D as well) (7).
- We see surprisingly few of these in urban cycling. The cyclists doing BMX tricks, and those cycling off-road are prone to falling off and fracturing clavicles (collar bones), wrists and scaphoids.
- Other cycling injuries tend to be grazes.
Fatal injuries are due to
- Head injuries. Wear a helmet!
- Not being seen. Usually on fast-moving roads, or by vehicles turning left. Anything that you more visible is good.
- Accident blackspots. There are some junctions that are very dangerous. We are keen to work with local municipal bodies to improve these. For now, cyclists have to difficult choice either of developing confidence (we have rights like any other vehicle) or of getting off and running with the vehicle across the junction when there is a gap in the traffic.
1. British Medical Association, 1992, Cycling: towards health and safety. Oxford University Press: Oxford.
2. P.H. Henten 1994, Benefits of exercise in health and disease. BMJ 308(6939):1291-1295.
3. National cycling strategy – cycling & health, 1996. At
4. Rutter H. 2000. Transport and Health. A policy report on increasing levels of cycling in Oxfordshire. Oxford.
5. National Institute of Clinical Excellence
6. Selby P. 2008. Vitamin D: how much do we need and how do we get it? Osteoporosis review 16(3):12-14.
7. Registrar General for Deaths, England & Wales. 2000 Mortality statistics: cause. London: Office for National Statistics.