Thinking about buying a bike? This might persuade you.
Cycling isn’t as popular in the UK as it is in other European countries (see: Denmark and Holland). But that does seem to be changing, as more and more people are turning to bikes to help them get around, get fit or get sociable. In fact, during lockdown, 1.3 million people in Britain bought a new bike, leading to some calling this new time the “cycling revolution”.
Whether you’re wanting to cycle as a way to get fitter or just as a way to get you from A to B, you probably want to know whether it’s worth the purchase. So, we asked Elle Linton, personal trainer, cycling enthusiast and Liv Cycling ambassador, to explain the benefits of getting on a bike.
Let’s start with the physical benefits of cycling, as these might be the first thing on your mind if you’re looking to use the sport as a way to exercise. “The main benefit of cycling is that it is a low impact cardiovascular workout,” says Elle. “This means that it won’t irritate your joints in the same way a sport such as running will – in fact, lots of runners who are injured often take up cycling to help with recovery.”
In fact, a study in the British Medical Journal found that cyclists have a lower risk of a range of adverse health outcomes, including cancer and cardiovascular disease, than those who didn’t ride a bike.
But it’s not just about the heart boost. Cycling can also build muscle, particularly if used on hills or on a stationary bike with increased resistance and “cycling can also improve your core strength from the balancing and stabilising involved,” adds Elle.
Practical and lifestyle benefits
This sounds boring, but when it comes to cycling, the practical element has a huge influence. “Cycling to work to save time is how I got into cycling in the first place. I realised I was sitting on the bus for ages not getting very far, so I bought a bike,” says Elle. “Even though it was just commuting, there was a huge benefit to moving in that way. I am 100% for cycling as a way to save time and commute to work.”
If you can’t drive, live in a city where owning a car is impractical or just want to diversify your commute, a bike is a practical answer.
Although buying a bike is an investment, for some people cycling might even help save money. “You don’t need to buy an expensive bike, or you can get a second hand one, and upkeep isn’t expensive if you keep on top of it,” says Elle.
Mental health support
We know that there are massive health benefits to exercising, but did you know that cycling could be one of the best forms of movement to help with anxiety and stress? Whether that’s because you interact with others, are in fresh air or moving your body, the mental health benefits are proven: in one study published in the British Medical Journal, cyclists had less risk of being stressed than non-cyclists. And the more you ride your bike, the lower the risk: those who bicycled five or more days per week were less stressed than those who bicycled less than four days.
“If you’re more into cycle fitness, a spin class can be a great way to boost your mental health too,” adds Elle. In fact, research by Gunma University Hospital, Japan, found that a single burst of exercise on a stationary bike reduced cortisol levels.
Finding a community
Just because you ride a bike solo doesn’t mean that you can’t get a social boost from taking up the sport, says Elle. “This is one of the main benefits of cycling for me. It’s a very sociable sport, from grassroots groups that help women getting into cycling, to fans who watch the sport,” she says. “I know that a lot of women are intimidated by joining a club, but if you find the right one, that is inclusive and welcoming, it can be one of the best decisions.”
The community aspect of training doesn’t just include racing together: it can be about training for events, going for picnics after your bike ride or talking online and having a space to ask questions.
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).