We’ve talked a lot about mortality lately and ways to reduce it, including running. But what about biking to work? Can this exercise help you live longer? It turns out that it may, according to recent research from the University of Glasgow in Scotland.
Given what we already know about how a sedentary lifestyle can increase mortality and disease risks, this should not come as a surprise. However, the details of how biking to work lowers mortality are quite remarkable. So let’s look at this study, how it was conducted, what it found and how biking to work can improve your health and longevity as a true life extender.
The Study: Biking to Work Lowers Mortality
In a massive study from the University of Glasgow and published in the British Medical Journal, 263,450 participants aged 40 to 69 who were employed and commuted to work were recruited across 22 sites in the U.K. Some walked to work, others biked, some had mixed mode transportation, and the rest commuted in a non-active fashion, such as via car or public transportation.
The researchers followed up with participants. Over the follow-up period, which was a median of five years, 2,430 participants died (496 related to cardiovascular disease, 1,126 related to cancer), 1,110 had heart disease incidence and 3,748 had cancer. (1)
So what did they ultimately find?
Commuting by walking was associated with a lower risk of CVD incidence and mortality. However, commuting by cycling was associated with the lowest risk of these as well as lower risks of all cause mortality and cancer, with dose dependent relations for all outcomes. Mixed mode commuting was associated with some benefits but only if the active component comprised cycling.
Digging a little further, biking to work was associated with a 46 percent decrease in cardiovascular disease risk and 45 percent decrease in cancer risk, and the reason biking to work seemed to be even more beneficial than walking is believed to be due to distance: (2)
“This may be because walkers commuted shorter distances than cyclists — typically 6 miles per week, compared with 30 miles per week — and walking is generally a lower intensity of exercise than cycling,” study author Carlos A Celis-Morales said in a statement.
This is all clearly good news for bicyclists, and it should be motivation for more people to start biking to work. Plus, beyond lowering the risk of heart disease and cancer, thus lowering mortality, there are more benefits of biking for your health and the environment.
4 Major Benefits of Biking
1. Lowers Stress and Supports Mental Health
We know how much strain stress can put on both physical and mental health. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, many health care professionals recommend exercise in one form or another to help relieve stress. (3)
In fact, according to research from the University Nebraska Medical Center, Creighton University and Omaha VA Medical Center, exercise like cycling can improve mental health the following ways: (4)
Increased interest in sex
Improvement in mood
Increased energy and stamina
Reduced tiredness that can increase mental alertness
Reduced cholesterol and improved cardiovascular fitness
2. Easier on Your Joints than Running
Compared to running, biking is much more low-impact, reducing the risk of injury. According to Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, “Whether you’re recovering from an injury, looking for a cross-training option or hoping to preserve your knees to run the New York Marathon when you are 85, cycling gets your legs moving and your heart pumping without pounding your joints.” (5)
3. Builds Muscle, Strengthens Bones and Burns Fat
Cycling is an aerobic workout that can turn on the afternburn effect, which helps your body burn fat, build muscle and even strengthen bones. According to Harvard Medical School, biking requires use of the gluteus muscles, quads, calves, hamstrings, flexor muscles, abdominal muscles, arms and shoulders. Repeated cycling can build all those muscles. (6)
Further, Dr. Clare Safran-Norton, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, says, “Resistance activities, such as pushing pedals, pull on the muscles, and then the muscles pull on the bone, which increases bone density.”
4. Helps Injury Recovery
Since biking is puts lower stress on the joints and body compared to other forms of exercise, it can actual help recover from injuries. It’s often used by physical therapists as a way to reintroduce the body to exercise after injury, and according to the Arthritis Foundation, exercise like cycling is one of the best treatments and prevention methods for arthritis-related pain and injuries. (7)
That’s not all biking can do for you, of course. Since it’s a form of exercise, it also provides all the benefits of exercise in general, and it’s also good for the environment. The more you’re biking to work as opposed to driving, the lower your carbon footprint and the better for the environment.
How to Incorporate More Cycling into Your Life
The first and most obvious way to incorporate more cycling into your life is to start biking to work. Even if you aren’t ready to bike to work every day, try once or twice a week. The more you get used to it, the more comfortable you’ll feel, and soon, you might find yourself a daily bike to work commuter.
You can also incorporate cycling into some common exercise hacks, such as:
- explore your town via your bike
- slow cycling with the dog instead of a simple walk or jog
- meet friends for workouts
- rent bikes on vacations instead of cabs/car apps
- schedule workouts, even on the stationary bike like the Peloton bike
- ride with your children
- use social media to find bike events, routes, trails, etc.
- ride a stationary bike while watching TV
- set a goal
- use a fitness tracker to encourage you
While biking to work is a great idea for your health and the environment, there are also some dangers to biking. For instance, as with any type of exercise, overtraining can be an issue. Make sure you give yourself enough rest between workouts and give your body adequate muscle recovery time.
Furthermore, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians, the most common cycling injuries include: (8)
- soft tissue injuries
- musculoskeletal trauma
- head injuries
- overuse injuries
To combat these, you can adjust your bike for better comfort, such as the seat height and handlebars. There’s also the inherent dangers that come with sharing the rode with motor vehicles. It’s vital to wear a helmet, protective and reflective clothing, and have reflectors on your bike. Cyclists also must abide by traffic laws, signal and be hyper aware at all times. This is especially important, as many drivers are oblivious to bikers.
Final Thoughts on Biking to Work
- According to recent research from the University of Glasgow, biking to work can decrease mortality by lowering the risk of heart disease and cancer.
- In addition, the benefits of biking include lowered stress, mental health support, improved sleep, increased sex drive, better endurance, mood improvement, increased energy and stamina, reduced tiredness that can increase mental alertness, weight reduction, reduced cholesterol, improved cardiovascular fitness, joint support, and injury recovery. Cycling also helps build muscles, strengthen bones and burn fat. Plus, it’s good for the environment.
- You can incorporate more cycling into your life by biking to work, exploring your town via bike, cycling with the dog instead of walking/running, renting bikes on vacations, riding with the family, etc.
- Always make sure to wear protective clothing and a helmet, follow traffic laws, and be hyper aware of your surroundings to prevent accidents. Also, listen to your body, giving yourself enough rest and recovery time to prevent injury.
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