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.
- If you are trying to improve your recall, it could be helpful to do some moderate to vigorous physical exercise one hour before.
3.) Cycling could help you maintain independence for longer.
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.