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Cycling: 10 Health Benefits

All exercise offers some health benefits. But, since it is summertime, let’s focus on some of the lesser known benefits of cycling. Consider dusting off your bicycle and heading out to the hills. You may have a desire to after you read about some of the top health (and other) benefits of this timeless sport.

  1. Lung and brain power. Cycling pushes your cardiorespiratory system hard, improving oxygen and blood flow. A strong cardiovascular system makes you ‘fitter’ and able to do more with less effort, including running up those stairs. Blood flow to the brain stimulates brain receptors, possibly reducing the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
  2. Better mental health. Moderately intense exercise, such as cycling, promotes mental health and it is one of the best options for managing stress. You will get the ‘runner’s high’ or feeling of euphoria, without the joint pounding of running.
  3. Explore more. You can cover more ground in a workout than with other options and explore more of your local/regional area. Walking and hiking are fantastic, but on 2 wheels you can cover more ground and go farther.
  4. You can do it socially. You can do with with friends or a group/cycling club. It can be a social sport. And those that devote time to socializing and establishing bonds (in addition to exercise) enjoy stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure.
  5. You can burn more fat. Your body’s metabolic rate increases not only during the ride but for hours after cycling. As you become fitter, the ‘after burn’ lasts even longer.
  6. Improves digestive health. It promotes gut health by decreasing transit time of waste removal through the body. This means less constipation, softer stools and feeling less bloated.
  7. Good for compromised knees. Cycling is often recommended for arthritic knees or for post-knee-injury cardio exercise. Cycling uses several different leg muscles and emphasizes slow, controlled movements. Your knees work from different angles with each stroke and the demand of work changes with each degree of change through a rotation.
  8. Environmentally friendly. Cycling reduces your carbon footprint. Because you are on two wheels, you can go further in less time. Cycling can get you where you need to go (often or on occasion) in place of your car. Fewer cars on the road mean less pollution.
  9. Good training and conditioning for other sports. Cycling keeps your body fit. Studies have shown that regular cycling improves performance in sports such as tennis and soccer. You get strengthening benefits with cardio training.
  10. It is fun. Whether you cycle alone, with a group or with your family, it is reminiscent of childhood. Remember coasting down the hills feeling the wind on your face. The sense of control but also freedom, as if you’re leaving all of your worries behind? You can feel that way every time.

Flexibility Training

Dedicated athletes looking for an edge in their field of competition need an exercise regimen based on four critical areas of training. These four areas increase speed, size, and power in any athlete. They include (1) flexibility (2) core strength (3) explosive movements, and (4) the strengthening of the posterior kinetic chain.  When combined with an upper body strength routine one can almost guarantee improvement on the court, the field or the ice. In this piece, we’ll focus on the flexibility component of athletic training and conditioning.

Importance of Flexibility

Increasing an athlete’s flexibility (as well as warming up prior to workouts) helps to decrease risk of injury. If an athlete lacks flexibility he/she is unable to enjoy a full range of muscular motion. Think about a new rubber band. It stretches only to a point before snapping. By ‘working’ it, repetitively, it stretches further and further without snapping. Much like your muscles. Not being able to perform an exercise completely, through a full range of motion, makes the exercise or movement incomplete or stilted. That lack of flexibility, in combination with other factors such as inadequate recovery periods, unbalanced training and/or using poor form all inhibit muscular development.

More often than not, flexibility in athletics is incorrectly incorporated into an exercise routine. It’s dangerous to stretch cold muscles. Performing a ‘dynamic’ warm up before a workout, event or game instead of static stretching is the best option. A dynamic warm-up may include movements such as walking lunges, knee raises, butt kicks, arm circles and squats. You don’t need equipment – use your own body-weight only.

Active Vs Passive Stretching for enhancing Flexibility

Passive stretching involves using an external force to push a joint beyond its active range of motion. Performing a standing calf stretch against a wall or using a partner to push you into a deeper stretch are examples of passive stretching. Instead of passive stretches, engage in ‘active’ stretching exercises. Active stretching uses your own muscular strength and effort to hold a position. Active (isolated) stretching is safe and effective as you eliminate external forces. You use your own muscle strength to achieve the desired range of motion. As the one muscle contracts the target muscle (opposite the contracting muscle – the one you want to stretch) relaxes and lengthens.

An example of an ‘active’ stretch for the chest is extending your arms out to the sides and retracting your shoulder blades. To actively stretch the hamstrings, extend your leg straight in front of you and relax it by contracting the quadriceps. When you contract your quadriceps, your brain sends a signal to your hamstrings to ‘relax.’ This allows you to achieve a deeper stretch without force.

Now that we’ve covered flexibility, we’ll move on to the second major component in athletic training and conditioning: core strength.