May is National Bike Month! We encourage you to try something new and enjoy the outdoors from a different vantage point. Cycling not only allows you to see your hometown in a new light, but also provides a number of health benefits. Read on to learn more:
1. Build Muscular Endurance
Compared to weightlifting, biking may not build much lean muscle, but it can develop your muscular endurance. According to LiveStrong, cardiovascular exercises, which rely on repetitive movements over a longer period of time, help your body burn calories and activate the slow-twitch muscle fibres responsible for prolonged movements.
Cycling activates your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes. Likewise, your core muscles work to keep you balanced on the seat. Biking over long distances becomes easier with practice as you train these muscles.
If you want to gain strength and endurance, LiveStrong recommends combining weight training with endurance practice. For example, if you want to build leg strength, you could perform exercises such as squats, leg presses and lunges to activate the fast-twitch fibres responsible for strength. Then, on alternate days, you could cycle for 30 minutes to build endurance.
2. Improve Respiratory Health
The physical benefits of cycling extend beyond the muscles. According to Bicycling magazine, the activity also activates your respiratory system, strengthening your diaphragm and lungs, as well as the intercostal muscles responsible for non-manual breath.
As noted by the magazine, when you pedal hard - such as when going uphill - your muscles require additional oxygen to work harder. To get more oxygen into your bloodstream, your heart beats faster and you begin to breathe more deeply. This action enlarges the alveoli, which are hollow cavities in the lungs through which oxygen passes into the blood and carbon dioxide is released.
The result of all this activity is stronger respiratory muscles, greater lung capacity and better endurance.
3. Boost Your Brainpower
When you think about the benefits of physical activity, you probably picture toned muscles, clear skin and low body fat. But did you know that regular exercise is good for your brain, too?
Researchers at the University of British Columbia conducted a study in which adults ages 56 to 96 completed 60 minutes of aerobic exercise three times a week. At the end of the study, participants who completed the exercise regime showed improved cognitive function, including improved memory retention and selective focus. In fact, brain scans showed increased volume of participants' hippocampuses - the region of the brain most associated with memory and autonomic nervous system responses.
Research from the University of California, Irvine Institute for Brain Aging and Dementia corroborated these findings, adding that brain health also benefits from a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, which is also linked to declining cognitive performance.
4. Get to Sleep Easier
Your level of physical activity directly impacts the quality of your sleep. According to research analysis from Bellarmine University and Oregon State University, cardiovascular health is tied to perceptions of sleepiness during the daytime. Regular exercise such as cycling improves emotional health and can make you feel more awake and alert throughout the day, helping you fall asleep easier at night.
The National Sleep Foundation reported regular exercise can decrease your stress levels and help you feel sleepier when it's time for bed. Plus, cycling gets you out into the sunlight, which triggers your body's circadian rhythm, or internal clock. By absorbing natural sunlight, your body "understands" when it's supposed to be awake and alert, and therefore when it's time to power off for the day.
5. Make New Friends
Cycling alone can be a wonderfully meditative experience, allowing you to process the day's challenges and focus on the important things in your life. However, it can also be a social experience, which has its own mental health benefits.
According to Psychology Today, socializing supports mental health in a number of ways, and may even lower your risk of dementia later in life. So the next time you want to go for a bike ride, why not invite a few friends? You may even make some new ones along the way. Active cyclists can form tight-knit communities which can provide social and mental support.