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Health Benefits of Cycling

Discover the health benefits of cycling and how you even increase your life expectancy with this activity.

| September 10, 2013

  • Learn the ins and outs of cycling from strength and stability to aerodynamics in “Cycling Science.”
    Cover Courtesy University of Chicago Press
  • Almost one-quarter of motorists felt their productivity was affected by the stress of their commute, compared to none of the cyclists.
    Chart Courtesy University of Chicago Press

Cycling Science (University of Chicago Press, 2012) by Max Glaskin takes readers through topics on cycling, such as tire rolling resistance, importance of aerodynamics and even the impact that shaved legs have on speed. Cyclists have much to gain from understanding the science of their sport. In this excerpt taken from chapter one, “Fundamentals,” learn about the health benefits of cycling.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Cycling Science.

Cycling does not guarantee immortality but it can increase your life expectancy by two years or more. Scientists worked this out by monitoring almost 17,000 Harvard alumni for up to 16 years. By their eightieth birthdays, those who had exercised adequately had extended their expected lifespan by an average of two years. An extensive study in Copenhagen, Denmark, lasting 14 years and involving 30,000 adults, showed that those who did not cycle to work had a mortality rate 39 percent higher than those who did. Blue-collar workers who cycled were found, in another study, to be as fit as their non-pedaling colleagues who were 10 years younger.

While all exercise burns calories and so helps individuals to keep their weight down, there are few such activities that can be done while traveling. Bicycle commuting burns an average of 542 calories per hour, and a study of nearly 2,400 adults found that those who biked to work were fitter, leaner, and less likely to be obese. They had better triglyceride, blood pressure, and insulin levels than those who didn’t actively commute to work.

The sensible cyclist will want to compare the relative risks of traveling daily by car with those of riding a bike. This has been analyzed by a team in the Netherlands. They demonstrated that the health benefits of cycling relative to car driving substantially outweigh the risks created by air pollution and traffic pollution. With those risks understood, it’s worth emphasizing that cycling to work has benefits beyond personal fitness. A survey by the UK’s Chartered Management Institute found that cyclists are more likely to arrive at work on time, are more productive, and are less prone to stress than colleagues arriving by car or public transport. For many, it’s not practical to commute by bike, but for those who are lucky enough, the science appears to show that life is not only longer but also far more enjoyable.

Read more: Learn more about the science of cycling in The Environmental Impact of Cycling and Road Safety for Cyclists.

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