The benefits of cycling

Cycling is a highly effective form of exercise - it stimulates and improves your heart, lungs and circulation, reducing risk of cardiovascular disease. It also strengthens your heart muscles, lowers resting pulse and reduces the blood fat levels.

Written by

Sheila Frampton

Cycling is a highly effective form of exercise - it stimulates and improves your heart, lungs and circulation, reducing risk of cardiovascular disease. It also strengthens your heart muscles, lowers resting pulse and reduces the blood fat levels.

With cycling, you tend to burn about 400 - 600 calories per hour – to lose 2lbs in body weight you need to cycle 15 hours per month or just under 4 hours a week without changing your diet. Even when you stop cycling you continue to burn calories because your body uses energy to repair your muscles and exercise pushes up your basal metabolic rate – the number of calories you burn just by ‘being’ – sitting still or sleeping. After cycling your basal metabolic rate is raised for hours. Over time, your body will build lean muscle tissue which will raise your basal metabolic rate permanently.

Riding a bike uses all the largest muscles in your body including the quadriceps, hamstrings, hip muscles and the glutes.  

So how do you get started?

Choosing the right bike:

  • The first step is to get the right bike.  It’s wise to buy your bike from a local shop.  The shop will make sure the bike fits you and may offer you a free trial.
  • If you’re on the heavy side, you’ll need a bike that is robust rather than a lightweight racer.   A mountain bike is a good choice.  
  • The bike needs to be the right size so its comfortable to ride and safe to use.   
  • Many bikes are designed for people who weight up to 220 lbs – if you’re heavier, there are bikes designed to take up to 350 lbs.  Some cyclists find upright bikes more comfortable whilst others prefer mountain bikes.
  • Your bike should have a comfortable saddle – saddle sores are extremely painful and prevent you from cycling until they heal.
  • Choose a bike with as many gears as possible to make cycling easier. 

 

Getting the saddle height right:

  • Place your heel on the pedal at its furthest point away
  • Your leg should be straight
  • There should be a slight bend in your elbows – you’ll know the reach is right when the front wheel of the hub disappears from view under the handlebars when you are riding

Choosing the right helmet

A helmet is advisable if you’re cycling – but the wide range on offer is very confusing.   Cycling helmets are designed to protect you from head injuries but there’s also comfort, aerodynamics and breathability to consider when you’re investing in one.   All helmets sold in reputable outlets will meet the required standards but the more you spend, the lighter and more breathable the helmet you’ll have. If you’re cycling all year round, you’ll want to take venting into consideration. 

What cycling helmet features do you need to look for?

  • A European CE EN 1078 standard sticker that confirms the helmet has passed a number of tests focusing on construction, field of vision, shock absorbing properties, retention system, chin strap and fastening devices.
  • MIPS – Multi-directional Impact Protection System – a liner designed to reduce the rotational forces on the brain that can occur in the event of a crash, adding an extra layer of friction and spreading the impact.
  • Fit – if a helmet doesn’t fit properly, it won’t do the job it was designed for.  They are usually available in different sizes – so do try on before you buy.
  • Comfort – you could be wearing your helmet for hours on a long ride so it must be comfortable.  Padding makes a helmet easy to wear and soaks sweat away – so choose a helmet with padding that may be removed and washed.
  • Adjustment/retention system – this is the way in which the helmet is adjusted to fit your head.  It’s often a click wheel or some kind of ratchet system.   It is best to have a system that you can operate with one hand.  
  • Venting – helmets with few or no vents are much warmer than vented ones – and just remember, you may be cycling hard in the summer months and need some venting.
  • Weight – the more expensive the helmet, the lighter it is in terms of weight.

What else do I need to get started with cycling?

  • Bike lock
  • Bike lights
  • Shoes and pedals
  • A water bottle
  • Puncture repair kit
  • Mini pump

Start slowly and build up:

If you cycle too far during the first few days, you’ll be too tired and sore to cycle again for a few days.   Set yourself a time for cycling or a distance – have a goal and once you’ve achieved it several times in succession, aim for a destination further away or aim to cycle for a longer time period.

Plan different routes:

Using the same route becomes a little tedious so plan different routes or join a cycling group and you’ll be able to enjoy company and explore different areas.

Joining a cycling group

A good cycling club will welcome you and be on hand to answer any technical questions.   Clubs may be found on British Cycling’s handy finder.  There’s Sky Rides or Breeze Rides for women and the Cycling UK’s site provides a list of member groups.

Cyclingweekly.com provides reasons for joining a cycling club – which include having a wealth of knowledge on tap, being able to make new friendships, learning new routes with good places to stop for something to eat or drink and  the possibility of getting into racing.

Spin classes

Spinning – or indoor cycling – is a form of high-intensity exercise which focuses on endurance, strength, intervals, high intensity and recovery.  Participants ride a special stationary exercise bike with a weighted flywheel in a studio setting. Music is usually loud, lively and motivational.  

If you don’t want to cycle outdoors – winter or summer – you could join a spin class at your local gym. These can be quite fast paced but excellent exercise. In terms of calorie burn, spinning and cycling burn about the same amount of energy. It’s gentle on the joints and because the intensity is varied throughout the class, it provides a great cardio workout – and strength training but it is often hard for beginners. Specialists recommend three spin classes a week. Do make sure you drink plenty of water - its easy to get dehydrated when spinning – and wear your padded shorts. If you go to a spin class, make sure:

  • You arrive 10 minutes early to set up the height of the saddle and the handlebars.
  • Swat up on the terms – a ‘tap back’ is a spinning move that means you come out of the saddle and then return to seated before lifting yourself up again – this happens lots of times during a lesson.
  • Make sure the resistance on the bike isn’t too strong or too weak.  You need to work but you don’t want to overdo it.
  • Remember to breathe – you’ll be pedalling madly, the music will be pumping and its easy to forget to breathe properly.
  • Concentrate on your pedal stroke – many spin bikes have ‘look’ pedals so you can clip in with cycling shoes and cleats.  The cage should be fairly tight around the foot.
  • Women need to wear a good sports bra – because you’ll be jumping in and out of the saddle and pedalling fast.
  • Don’t grip the handlebars too strongly – this puts pressure on your wrists.
  • Enjoy yourself – spinning can be addictive.

Great reasons why cycling is good exercise for the over 50s

  • It’s a cardio and strength workout – an excellent way to keep your cardiovascular system health.
  • You can put in as much or as little effort as you like – allowing you to build up fitness levels.
  • It’s low impact.
  • You can cycle even if you’re overweight – riding a bike means you put less pressure on your joints.
  • It lifts the mood – just five minutes of moderate exercise can lift your mood.
  • It can be a solo or a group activity – cycle with friends, family or the grandchildren.
  • It helps you look and feel younger – cycling works the core muscles and relieves stress.
  • It builds up your endurance levels.
  • It sharpens your mind – cycling involves making lots of decisions – gears, balance, obstacles ahead, speed.
  • It provides an ‘adventure’ – you notice far more than in a car, on a bus or on a train.
  • You can cycle anywhere in the world and see much more – there are hundreds of cycling holidays on offer at home or abroad.
  • It’s accessible – you need a bike, some clothing and a helmet – and you’ll all set.
  • You can get out and about in the fresh air.

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