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How Cycling Affects the Body

How Cycling Affects the Body

Bicycling. Cycling. Spin class. No matter what it’s called, there’s one thing everyone can agree on—cycling is a great way to work out. It’s one example of interval training, which refers to aerobic exercise that incorporates low- and high-bursts of activity that jumpstart both metabolism and workout motivation. Hey, it happens to the best of us.

But, beyond the serious sweat and the confidence boost that comes with rocking head-to-toe lycra, what good does cycling do? Or rather, how is our cycling habit affecting–no, improving–our body?

Cardiovascular health

man biking near the waterCardiovascular health is a sort-of umbrella term for the many problems that affect the heart and blood vessels, like high blood pressure. The American Heart Association (AHA) explains that blood pressure is the result of two forces: the force from blood pumping out of the heart, and the force created as the heart rests between beats. And the higher that pressure, the more the tissue that makes up arterial walls gets stretched and damaged. The AHA reports that this then leads to vascular weakness, like scarring, increased risk of blood clots, plaque build-ups, and tissue and organ damage from narrowed and blocked arteries.

Not only does cycling lower blood pressure, but it also lowers high LDL “bad” cholesterol—another marker for cardiovascular disease and death.

Healthy weight loss


People who are overweight or obese face higher risks of diseases and health conditions, like high blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, sleep apnea, and some cancers. While many factors are at play here, in general, increasing your physical activity—expending more calories than you take in—is the way to lose weight. But this doesn’t have to be so dramatic: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, losing as little as 5 percent of total body weight reduces risk for disease.

Cycling may take this a step further given that it kicks your body into “hyper-drive” or revs your metabolism, says Shape’s health and fitness writer Charlotte Hilton Anderson. She explains that doing more intense intervals “stimulates production of your human growth hormone by up to 450 percent during the 24 hours after you finish your workout.” And this hormone is responsible for both fat and calorie burn. Win-win.

Muscles and endurance

shirtless man carrying bike

One concern exercisers have when they consider cycling is that weight loss will also result in muscle loss—but that’s not the case, says Anderson. A commonly cited statistic is that a week of inactivity reduces the strength of the muscular system by up to 50 percent, and during cycling, you activate most of the body’s muscles, including hamstrings, glutes, quads, shin, and calf muscles. The more you work these muscles, the more you build endurance, which just means you’ll be able to pedal for longer. It also means your heart doesn’t have to work so hard.

Bonus: Dylan Thomas, a professor of health sciences at the University of Bath and author of the study, told Bicycling magazine when you use your muscles, you break down carbohydrate and fat stores. The latter may help prevent overeating.

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Two friends working out together during the summer

Cross-training


Cycling on its own improves cardiovascular health, fitness, and endurance, but it can also elevate other training. Runner’s World reports that runners can overpower hamstrings, neglect upper bodies, and worsen flexibility; in which case, it’s highly recommended they spend rest days doing workouts “closest to running in terms of muscle used and aerobic systems taxed.”

Runners will still work up a legit sweat, but ultimately they’ve maximized fitness at the same time they’re at a reduced risk for injury and rehabilitation. Getting on a bike, too, helps muscles bounce back quicker, and prevents boredom and burnout.

No matter which way you spin it, cycling is good for your body and your training.

About Stephanie Castillo

Stephanie is currently covering women’s health for Medical Daily, a subsidiary site of Newsweek’s parent company IBT Media, and was previously an online assistant editor for Prevention.com. Some of her work has also been featured or appeared in Newsweek, Refinery29, and Well + Good NYC.

Now that you’ve got the training under control it’s time to make sure you’re on top of nutrition. Click here to learn more about WellPath’s customized nutritional solutions.

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