THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF RIDING A BIKE
by Dr. Tracy Anderson, Bike Austria Owner & Guide
Why riding a bike is the best form of exercise…
For starters, riding a bike is simply good clean fun that happens to be exercise with health benefits. Exercise is well known to reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Recent studies have shown that it can play an important role “staying young” and preventing problems such as Alzheimers.
Riding a bike combines four important advantages that make it a uniquely good form of healthy exercise.
- Easy to learn and quickly becomes fun for a wide range of people
- A lifelong form of exercise.
- Done predominantly in green spaces
- Achieves a level of exertion needed to improve cardiovascular fitness
The basic skills to ride a bike safely are easy to learn, regardless of age or fitness level. This has two important results. First, participants can quickly build up confidence and a sense of accomplishment, along with the freedom and independence that comes with cycling. The positive social interactions that bike riding affords are also important for the development of healthy behaviors. Second, fun activities more easily engender a desire to repeat the experience. Riding a bike is one of the few healthy behaviors, where so many can experience the benefits. Once the basic skill set is learned, participation is possible at every stage of life.
Riding a Bike Harnesses the Health Benefits of Green Spaces
A newer and growing body of research is finding that increased exposure to greenery, nature, and sunlight has a multitude of benefits. Mountain bike riding produces many health benefits by taking place predominantly in these green spaces. These spaces enhance mental health and learning capacity both immediately and over time, by lowering stress levels and restoring attention. Greenery restores attention by drawing the eye while calming the nervous system simultaneously, creating a state of “calm alertness” –a state considered ideal for learning. This is in contrast to stress-based alertness associated with screen activities, which deplete attention. Similarly, studies show exposure to sunlight can reduce attention deficit symptoms, while abundant bright light first thing in the morning can help restore disrupted circadian rhythms, improve mood, and enhance restorative sleep.
In 2003, the University of Essex in the United Kingdom coined the term “Green Exercise”. They have pioneered a body of research looking at the synergy of physical activity in green environments. In 2012, Specialized Bicycles started to build upon this research by applying it to school settings with a specific focus on ADHD. They have shown that bike riding is the perfect “Green Exercise” to realize these health benefits. Essentially anyone, even many with handicaps, can achieve a level of exertion needed to produce improved cardiovascular fitness.
HOW TO REALIZE THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF CYCLING
The core objective of Bike Austria is to address the four primary barriers preventing many persons from realizing the psychological and physical health benefits of cycling.
- Lack of safe and engaging infrastructure for cycling
- Development of the necessary skill set for confident and safe cycling
- Exposure to the “Fun of Cycling” that engenders long-term participation
- Incorporating an understanding of medical conditions into the programs