Like all forms of moderate intensity exercise, regular cycling (3 to 5 times a week for a total of 150 minutes) will reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and improve your overall health, and may even reduce the risk of some forms of cancer. Cycling will improve your endurance and aerobic capacity, as well as toning various muscle groups like the calves thighs and back. An hour of cycling can burn anything between 250 and 700 calories (1046 and 2930 kilojoules) depending on the intensity. It is also an excellent stress reducer.
For those who may be overweight and/or have joint problems which make it difficult for them to do weight-bearing exercise, cycling is a good fitness option.
Regular cycling at a healthy level can have a beneficial effect on many of the body’s organs and systems.
When you exercise your heart needs to beat faster to pump more blood around your body 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 to pump 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.
Exercise improves muscle strength, coordination and balance, which lessens the likelihood of falls in the elderly and improves joint mobility and lubrication. Muscle endurance and tone will result, and prominence of the working muscle groups like the calves and thighs can be noticed. Posture and balance also improves.
Gentle cycling may help arthritis sufferers, lessening joint pain and swelling and increasing flexibility.
One of the skin’s major functions is as an excretory organ of the body 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.
Researchers have also reported that biking and other routine physical activities of 30 minutes a day may help women avoid gallstone surgery. People who exercise have more active intestines which, along with the improvement in cholesterol profile that occurs in regular exercisers, may help reduce the risk of gallstones.
Moderate exercise done on a regular basis generally improves functions of the body. However, some male cyclists have reported penile impairment and short-term impotence after prolonged and/or repeated bouts of cycling. This is due to a reduced blood supply and nerve compression in the area of the perineum. In men, the perineum is the area between the scrotum and the anus. This area may become compressed as the cyclist sits on the saddle and may be subjected to jarring when you cycle over rough ground. However, for most male cyclists the consequences tend to be limited to a few minutes of numbness in the region immediately after a long cycle ride. Some studies have suggested that the prevalence of erectile dysfunction is no greater among male cyclists than in the male population in general.
However, an analysis of results from a large (1700 men) study called the Massachusetts Male Aging Study showed that although cycling fewer than 3 hours a week was not associated with erectile dysfunction, cycling more than 3 hours a week could be associated with an increased risk. For this reason, men should take the following precautions to reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction:
It is also recommended that men should try to position the seat so that it minimises pressure on the perineum. Pointing the bike seat downward a little, or buying a wider seat with better support for the pelvic bones, may help prevent this problem. Narrow seats are said to put the most pressure on the perineum.
A 2004 study of 463 cyclists completing a 320 km-plus cycling event showed that features associated with an increased risk of erectile dysfunction were:
If cycling causes numbness or tingling in your penis, take a break and adjust your riding position.
Last Reviewed: 22 March 2010