May is National Bike Month, so if you haven’t put your bike to good use yet, now’s the perfect time to start. You get some noteworthy health benefits — like better brain function, less stress, a better immune system — from hopping on and taking it for a spin. Here are 6 ways riding your bike will make you healthier.
1. It burns calories
This is the most obvious, but it has to be mentioned. Whether you’re commuting or pedaling through the park, spend an hour biking, and you can say goodbye to almost 300 calories. If you decide to bike your five-mile commute to work, about a 20-minute ride each way, twice a week, you’ll burn up to 3,000 extra calories — close to one pound of fat — each month. And that’s only twice per week.
And although cyclists are known for their great legs, cycling actually tones your entire body. To conquer hills, you’ll need to work those handlebars and engage your core, which results in sculpted arms and toned abs. With those benefits, putting on those spandex biking outfits won’t be so daunting.
2. You’ll feel better and have more energy in the morning
Have an early morning meeting, presentation, or interview that you need to nail? Try taking your bike out for a spin. A Danish study surveyed more that 20,000 kids and found that those who biked (or walked) to school tested much better in class than those who were driven to school by their parents. The morning exercise affected performance even more than eating a healthy breakfast did. (Although we’re not suggesting you skip breakfast.)
Waking up to go biking sounds way better than waking up for an early morning run. It’s low impact, and you get to sit down. You can even eat breakfast on the bike if you want to. Instead of leaving you exhausted and sweaty, a morning ride is refreshing and rejuvenating for your mind and body.
3. It improvies brain function
If you don’t want to be smarter, you can stop reading this now. For those of you still reading, get on your bike. Plenty of research suggests that exercise in general is beneficial to brainpower, but it looks like cycling takes the prize.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research found that biking, in particular, could boost your brainpower. The researchers found that after a 30-minute ride on a stationary bike at moderate intensity, the participants scored higher on memory, reasoning and planning — and they were able to complete the task faster.
We’re guessing that taking that bike outside is just as good, or better.
4. It helps you stress less
Yes, along with more smarts and less weight, biking also lowers stress. Exercise, like biking, makes the brain more resilient to stress and protects it from depressive symptoms. Along with releasing serotonin and dopamine, other mood-lifting chemicals like endorphins and cannabinoids kick in after 20 to 30 minutes of cycling.
“Exercise works as well as psychotherapy and antidepressants in the treatment of depression, maybe better,” James Blumenthal, a professor of behavioral medicine in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University, told Bicycling.
5. It improves your immune system
Fight off colds and other bugs by jumping on your bike. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, exercise causes changes in antibodies and white blood cells (the body’s immune system cells that fight disease). These antibodies circulate more rapidly, and as a result, are able to detect illnesses earlier than they might have before. They also say that during and after exercise, there is brief rise in body temperature, which may prevent bacteria from growing. This temperature rise may help the body fight infection more effectively.
A study published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity found that cycling is much easier on your body than intense running is, so if you feel like you’re coming down with something, consider skipping your run and take a spin on your bike instead. Although any form of exercise can bolster your immune system, low-impact cycling will be more beneficial to your body than pounding pavement when you feel like you’re getting sick.
6. You’ll live longer
Exercise and you’ll live longer. This is reason enough to bust out your bike. Exercise helps you live healthier and longer, according to a number of studies — like this one — while inactivity or too much sitting does the opposite.
According to one study on exercise and longetivity, titled “Leisure Time Physical Activity of Moderate to Vigorous Intensity and Mortality: A Large Pooled Cohort Analysis,” you can calculate the effect that exercise has on the length of your life. It comes back to you multiplied, possibly by as much as seven, eight, or nine times. That means you can estimate seven extra minutes of life gained for each minute spent exercising.
How much easier can healthy get? As you’re pedaling around on your bike enjoying the scenery, you’re also extending your now healthier life.