Three Ways Cycling Makes You Healthier and Happier

By guest writer James Hewitt.

It can feel challenging to fit everything into our increasingly complex lives. Many of us are​ ​trying to succeed at work, maintain good relationships, all while staying fit and healthy.​ ​Unfortunately, as much as we might enjoy riding our bikes, it all too often gets cut from our​ ​schedules. In case you need some extra ammunition to convince yourself to get out for a​ ​ride at the weekend, I’m going to share three evidence-based ways that cycling can improve​ ​your life.

Back in the early 2000s, I spent a few years racing full-time for an under-23 development​ ​team, based in France. I returned to the UK to study sports science and eventually set up my own coaching business. A pivotal moment in my new career occurred​ ​while I was working with a group of enthusiastic cyclists, who were also high-performing​  ​executives. I observed that my clients’ working lives had a huge impact on their physical​ ​performance. It was then I had a revelation. I realised it was possible to conceptualise​ ​‘knowledge work’ – in which we think for a living – as a ‘cognitive’ endurance activity.​ ​My subsequent work has endorsed this, as has a tremendous amount of scientific research​ ​into the benefits of physical activity. So, I thought it might be interesting to share some​ ​findings you may not have come across before.


1.) Having a cycling friendship group could be as beneficial as quitting smoking.

Many of us will have heard and experienced that social relationships are important for our​ ​mental health. But did you know that friends make a difference for physical health, too? In​ ​fact, as risk factors to health, the relative lack of social relationships can rival cigarette​ ​smoking, high blood pressure, obesity and low physical activity.


A 2010 analysis of nearly​ ​150 studies, representing more than 300,000 people, estimated that strong social​ ​relationships may contribute to​ ​improved mortality by as much as 50%. Practically, the​ ​analysis suggests that the effect of having good relationships is comparable to quitting​ ​smoking. Maybe consider that next time you’re thinking about ducking out of that group​ ​ride.


2.) Cycling may improve your memory.

Do you feel like you’re always forgetting where you left your car keys or your phone?​ ​Perhaps it’s just me but the fact remains, in a time where we’re bombarded with​ ​information, many of us would like to find ways to enhance our ability to recall facts and​ ​figures more efficiently. In 2016, a group of researchers investigated how best to​ ​incorporate physical activity as a means to improve memory performance. While various​ ​studies have described how physical​ ​activity can improve cognitive performance, this study​ ​focused mainly on the importance of timing.


The researchers concluded that:

- If you are trying to improve your recall, it could be helpful to do some moderate to​ ​vigorous physical exercise one hour before.
- If you are trying to commit information to memory, it is better to be sedentary for a few​ ​hours afterwards, as exercise seems to interfere with ‘memory encoding’.

3.) Cycling could help you maintain independence for longer.
In 2018, a group of scientists investigated the relationship between lifelong aerobic exercise​ ​on VO 2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen our body can take up and use), and the point​ ​at which someone is likely to lose their independence later in life. The scientists compared​ ​three different groups:

1) Older, healthy non-exercisers (around 75 years old)
2) Young exercisers (approximately 25 years old)
3) Lifelong exercisers (people who had exercised around 5 days per week, for 7 hours​ ​per week, over last 52 years)

Through biopsies, researchers were able to demonstrate that the muscles of lifelong​ ​exercisers worked as well those 50 years their junior. And maintaining a higher VO 2 max by​ ​regular exercise, the oldest group on test significantly improved their ‘physiological reserve’.​ ​This, in turn, helped them stay independent for longer. The results are compelling; if you’re​ ​riding your bike already, keep going. If you’re not, there’s no time like the present to get​ ​started, or to​ ​start again. Once you are fit enough, it’s probably not a bad idea to throw in​ ​some intense sessions to build and maintain your VO 2 max.

James Hewitt is a researcher on human performance, whose clients range from Formula 1​ ​teams to Fortune 500 companies. For more insights on helping busy people improve their​ ​wellbeing and performance, sign-up for James’ weekly newsletter here​.​
To find out more and to sign up for our Inside Out Gravel Series, click here

Read about Going Solo - 8 top tips to stay safe on a bike.

Authored By Jack Buxton
"After only learning how to ride his bike in anti-clockwise circles back in the Nineties, Jack has come a long way (although only by taking left turns) and is now heading Pearson's online offering. When he's not manning the keyboards you'll see him out on his Off Grid, as a newly converted gravel aficionado."
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