I was thrilled to hear from my in-laws earlier this year, that they have taken up regular cycling and it’s had some great physical benefits, because we all know that cycling improves your physical health. The benefits for them have included a significant reduction in their blood pressure as well as improving their overall health.
These two are not spring chickens, but through a relatively short daily ride they’ve really made a difference to their quality of life. So I thought I’d have a look at why a small amount of riding is so beneficial to them.
My research has revealed that regular cycling can have a beneficial effect on many of the body’s organs and systems.
The heart and circulatory system
When you exercise your heart needs to beat faster and more powerfully to pump more blood around your body in order to supply enough oxygen to your muscles so that they can do the work. At rest your heart normally pumps about 4 litres of blood per minute, but during moderate aerobic activities such as cycling, this increases to approximately 20 litres of blood per minute. This increase is achieved by your heart beating faster and more powerfully so that it pumps out more blood with each beat.
Exercising your heart in this way will make it bigger and stronger, just as your biceps get bigger when you exercise them. This kind of exercise will also prevent the build up of fatty deposits (atheroma) in the arteries of your heart (the coronary arteries), which is why people who take part in regular physical activity have a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease compared with those who don’t.
Regular aerobic activity such as cycling can prevent or delay the development of high blood pressure and in people who already have high blood pressure it can reduce it.
Regular aerobic exercise can lower your total cholesterol levels, as well as improving your cholesterol profile by increasing the ratio of ‘good’ cholesterol (HDL-cholesterol) to ‘bad’ cholesterol (LDL-cholesterol) in your blood.
People who take part in regular exercise tend to have lower body fat and better lipid (blood fat) profiles than others. This means they are less likely to develop arterial disease, which is a risk factor for stroke.
Muscles and joints
With regular exercise, the capacity of your muscles will increase, making everyday activities easier. The muscles will also become more toned and they become better at taking up glucose, which reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes. For older people, exercise improves muscle strength, coordination and balance, which lessens the likelihood of falls. It also improves joint mobility and lubrication.
For arthritis sufferers, gentle cycling may help lessen joint pain and swelling and increase flexibility.
One of the skin’s major functions is to regulate your body temperature, and during cycling, blood flow to the skin increases to rid the body of heat. Regular exercise of this type will improve your capacity to regulate your temperature in warmer conditions.
The slight increase in blood carbon dioxide levels that occurs during exercise will cause your breathing to become faster and deeper (an increase in lung ventilation). This action also increases the delivery of oxygen into the lungs, which can then be taken up by the blood to supply the additional oxygen needed by the body. Regular aerobic exercise like cycling will improve your lung ventilation and efficiency.
There is also evidence that moderate intensity activities such as cycling may reduce the risk of lung cancer.