Recent studies have started to outline some of the less desirable outcomes of running, primarily concerning repetitive strain placed on the knees, ankles, and back. The science is also indicating some alternatives, however, and one of our favourites involves two wheels. Cycling!
One of the biggest studies conducted into the benefits of cycling was conducted in the UK by The University of Glasgow. The study, published in 2017, involved over 250,000 participants over the course of five years, using mode of transport as a variable. Over the course of the study, the participants who cycled were found to be 41% less likely to die of any cause, and 45% and 46% less likely to develop cancer or heart disease respectively. The main benefits of cycling contributing towards reduced health risk cited in the study were: weight loss, lean mass and lower levels of inflammation in the body. 2013 University of Kent research also found that endurance cycling leads to some of the best-known increase in cardiovascular strength.
For those who wish to really push cycling to a competitive endurance level, it seems there are also lifespan benefits to be had. A University of Valencia study analysed data on 834 cyclists who had competed in the Tour De France over a 30-year period. The study found that people who completed the race lived on average eight years longer when compared with the average population.
One note of caution however for men aged 50+; is that long-distance cycling has been linked to an increase in a prostate-specific antigen called tPSA. A 2013 Victorian Institute of Sport, Melbourne study of 129 men ranging in age from 50-71 years, in a bike ride of between 55-160km, found that the antigen was increased on average 9.5% post ride, with extra risk appearing in older men and in relation to distance cycled.
On the plus side of the ledger, cycling also offers benefits for the mind. 2013 research by the Gunma University School of Medicine discovered that cycling reduces the amount of non-saliva cortisol in our brain, which leads directly to lower levels of depression and anxiety. 2015 research from the University Medical Centre, Utrecht, links cycling to increased white matter concentration in the brain. White matter is the stuff we need to form new connections between different parts of the brains – a dearth of white matter results in slower thinking and even neurological deficits. More direct, tangible benefits can be found in the results of a 2013 Sharda University study, wherein participants each cycled for 30 minutes and performed a series of cognitive tasks before and after. There were clear increases in scoring on memory, reason, planning and even the time it took them to complete the test.
Going to the gym and getting on an exercise bike is well and good, but this means that you miss out on possibly the greatest thing about cycling: exposure to nature. Getting out into nature and seeing it first hand on a bicycle can make you feel much more connected with your environment. Regular outdoor biking allows you to feel the change in seasons, familiarise yourself with your local flora and fauna and appreciate the landscape which, in New Zealand, we know is going to be pretty damn good. Cycling in nature brings about notable improvements in overall mood for people who are regularly in nature and even measurable increases in creativity. Why not check out our blog on the benefits of getting out into nature here (link nature blog here).
Even cycling through the urban jungles of big cities (looking at you, Auckland) can be a rewarding experience – it’s certainly less frustrating than sitting motionless inside a metal box in rush-hour traffic. You can zip through gridlocked cars and take in the chaotic order of the swelling human-made cityscape, dodging pedestrians, bouncing up curbs and zipping across bridges. In short, it’s good fun. There aren’t many places you can’t go with a bicycle and there aren’t any other things that can get you there in quite the same style.
For last word on cycling, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the man that created our beloved Sherlock Holmes, had some sage advice. “When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”