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Pedalling towards a healthy you: How cycling can keep you fit

Cycling can be also part of a weight loss programme, since it burns considerably more calories than any other exercise in the shortest of time span.

Written by Dr Rana Chengappa | New Delhi | Published: September 28, 2016 6:48:20 pm
cycling, cycling for health, health benefits of cycling, cycling benefits, exercise and cycling, indian express, indian express news Heading out with your bicycle can also have quite a positive effect on how you feel as well. (Source: Thinkstock Images)

On a daily basis, cycling is a great form of aerobic exercise that will keep you healthy and fit. For instance, cycling has the capability to reduce the danger of serious medical conditions, from heart disease to high blood pressure, and from obesity to the most widespread form of diabetes. An educated guess has brought into notice that new cyclists — even those who take the initiative of cycling a short distance — can increase longevity, as the exercise results in the reduction of heart disease by 20-25 per cent.

Cycling can be also part of a weight loss programme, since it burns considerably more calories than any other exercise in the shortest of time span. We’re talking 300 calories in just 1 hour. At the gym, that would mean a medium workout for 40-60 minutes. In fact, a 20-minute bike ride to-and-from work, five days a week, has the potential of burning an equivalent of approximately 6kg of fat in a year, according to a study (Your Commute Could Help You Lose Weight, by Rachel Bachman). Cycling also meets the latest suggested target on exercise — every individual should incorporate mild-medium physical activity, which might leave one a little out of breath, for close to 30 minutes, five times a week.

Heading out with your bicycle can also have quite a positive effect on how you feel as well. Moderate exercise has been found to reduce major levels of depression and anxiety. It does play a vital role in improving mood swings and raising self-esteem in an individual as well. In women, it has been seen to relieve symptoms of premenstrual syndrome.

For the elderly, there can be indirect benefits, like reducing physical damage by falling and hurting yourself, which can be seriously disabling. To build one’s leg strength and coordination, cycling is the best way to improve it. This is more important than it seems, because leg strength improves mobility by allowing people to get out of chairs more easily, while improved coordination helps older people avoid falls and the injuries associated with them.

There are no real age barriers to cycling, and people of almost any fitness level can go ahead and cycle, be it slowly and gently or vigorously — it all depends on the need and the stamina. Anyone with a heart disease or other conditions affecting their activity ideally needs to consult a physician first before he/she indulges into taking up a fitness programme. Those of all body shapes and all but the most extreme body weights can ride a bike.

But how much you ride depends on you and the type of fitness you have. It has a lot to do with your present lifestyle too. A gradual time of 10-15 minutes of slowly increasing the time span every two weeks to a maximum length of an hour is an ideal way to begin. In a matter of few days or weeks, aerobic form will have enhanced and you will be able to ride for longer distances without feeling anything more than being slightly puffed out.

Whether it be indoor or outdoor, cycling in particular has become very popular with people, irrespective of age. With pollution being one of the biggest environmental hazards, and taking up more caution about health and fitness since cycling has become a great way to save on fuel and turn yourself into a much fitter person.

Now, once you do know of all the merits cycling does have, one tends to wonder whether indoor cycling is the best option or is going outdoors more beneficial. There are many factors you need to take into account before you make up your mind since both are great ways to incorporate fitness into one’s life, for instance:

* The weather plays a major role. No sane person would suggest that you go out cycling during rain and thunder storms or even when there is too much sun outside. For days like those, one should stick to cycling indoors on a stationary bike.

* The time of the day you choose to train is important, and how much time you can devote to the exercise. If you have a lot of time to spare in the mornings, then cycling outdoors will be a superb option.

* How much of an investment can you make for your fitness. A stationary bike is more expensive as compared to an ordinary cycle for beginners. You can graduate to expensive options later once you do have a stronger stamina and probably a desire to indulge into a better machine.

* Cycling outdoors depends upon the space you have for such activity, whether you have a good cycling track or whether you are comfortable cycling in the midst of busy traffic. Indoors would be a better option if you get jittery with the Indian traffic scenario.

All these factors do depend on your personal choices and how easily you can adapt to the new fitness regime you wish to follow. However, it is essential you do not start in full pomp and glory and gradually dampen your spirits to become healthier.

The author is Clinical Director, Sports Medicine, AktivOrtho.

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