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Cycling is good for you. We all know that. It’s good for your physical and mental health.
Robin Williams once said that riding a bike is “mobile meditation”. But is cycling every day good for you, or is it over the top?
It depends, is the answer. In this article, we’ll look at the arguments for and against riding your bike every day. Or even most days.
11 Reasons Why Cycling Every Single Day Is Good For You (And Bad!)
Cycling every day is good for you. We can only think of a few points against it, and most of those are resolvable.
1. Prevents Diseases (Good)
Video: Preventing Type 2 Diabetes By Cycling
Like other forms of exercise, cycling is known to help prevent various diseases. Most notably, these include type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
Heart disease and diabetes are both linked to waist size, irrespective of whether adults have a “normal” BMI (Body Mass Index). In men, a waist size above 40” is considered very high risk, while in women that figure is 34.6”.
The visceral fat that affects your waist size is hard to fully shift. Low-intensity fasted cycling (i.e., before breakfast) is often said to be a way to address this, though this idea has many critics.
One American study found that higher cycling frequency reduced cardiometabolic risk factors. Just three cycling trips per week may reduce heart disease and diabetes risk factors by 20%, according to that study.
2. Lose Weight (Good)
Many people take up cycling to lose weight. And the more you cycle, the more you lose weight, at least in theory. One way this doesn’t work is if you gorge on junk foods straight after each bike ride, so a bit of discipline is needed.
You should consume a mixture of protein and carbohydrates before cycling fairly long distances or durations. This has the effect of replenishing muscle glycogen and repairing/building muscles. Chocolate milk is a cheap way to do this.
Some apps that complement cycling will help you lose weight. MapMyFitness is a popular app that tracks exercise and diet. This app gives you a target number of calories to eat each day. You’ll need to sync it with a fitness app first.
Diet-tracking apps are enlightening. They make you realize what your diet lacks as well as what you eat too much of.
Cycling does help you to lose belly fat to a degree. Cycling at low intensity for longer durations (e.g., 90 minutes plus) forces your body to draw on fat reserves for energy, as your glycogen stores become depleted.
The above being said, it’s wise to eat if you’re going to be riding for, say, more than 2 hours, or you’re quite likely to “bonk”. That means you’ll suffer an abject loss of energy and struggle to make it home.
Some cyclists follow a keto diet and claim to be able to ride long rides without eating. A keto diet is a no-sugar, low-carb, high-fat diet. It’s meant to train your body to use fat as its primary fuel source.
The keto diet is not something to jump into lightly, however, especially if you have existing health issues. See a doctor, first. Many doctors won’t recommend it.
Read more: What to eat before a long bike ride
3. Improve Mental Health (Good)
Video: Cycling And Mental Health
Many people cycle to improve or maintain their mental health. The more often you cycle, the better, but it’s okay to have a rest day now and again.
As with other forms of exercise, cycling reduces the levels of stress hormones like cortisol in the body. It also triggers the release of endorphins, which reduce stress and promote a feeling of well-being.
Any type of cycling exercise is good, but outdoor cycling has the added benefit of exposing us to daylight. Natural light is known to improve mood and help fight depression. It also has a positive effect on sleeping habits.
The above is one area where riding outdoors is likely to be more beneficial than riding an indoor trainer, especially if the trainer is in a poorly lit room. It’s hard to replicate the intensity of outdoor light in the home. A conservatory is a good place for a trainer.
4. Cycling Becomes A Chore (Bad)
As soon as you resolve to cycle every day, you’re setting yourself up for potential failure. And if you happen to have mental health issues, this does nothing to improve your mood. Lack of motivation is a common symptom of depression.
One way to overcome this lack of motivation is to force yourself to go through the motions of preparing for a bike ride. It might be the last thing in the world you want to do, but many times you’ll thank yourself later.
It’s also okay to take a rest from cycling, though don’t let it drift into the long-term.
Another way you can motivate yourself is to join an online support community and set yourself goals. For instance, Conqueror challenges (not free) motivate many people with mental and physical health issues to exercise regularly.
Setting yourself small, attainable goals is a motivational trick. If you tell yourself you’ll only ride a specific short distance as a minimum, any extra mileage feels like a win.
Other motivating techniques include riding different bikes or taking different routes for a change of scenery.
Read more: Beating Bike Commute Fatigue
4. Improve Sleep Habits (Good)
Cycling regularly will help your sleeping habits. This needs qualifying, though, as the opposite can be true if you exercise late at night.
Your heart rate stays elevated for several hours after riding a bike. It also takes 4-5 hours for your body’s core temperature to return to normal. These conditions hinder sleep or reduce its quality.
Bike commuting if you work a 9-to-5 job is ideal for enhancing sleep, as your body has time to normalize before you’re likely to go to bed.
It’s important if you ride a bike with any intensity or over long distances that you pay attention to getting enough sleep. Recovery is a big deal in cycling. Living life with a chronic sleep deficit is likely to affect your health eventually.
When you’re in a permanent sleep deficit, regular exercise can be a bad idea (read this article on what happens of you overtrain). It’s a road to long-term fatigue that may last for weeks or months. That’s the opposite of the energized feeling most people want to achieve with fitness.
Understanding that sleep is a vital health factor will also improve your performance on a bike. Fitness watches and wearables like the Whoop recovery strap place a big emphasis on the quality and duration of your sleep.
5. Better Diet (Good)
Cycling is a sport that motivates many people to eat better. It’s not an activity that blends easily with a poor diet, unlike darts. If you cycle regularly, there’s a fair chance your mindset will change, and you’ll become more aware of what you’re eating.
Do you buy ready-made meals? You might suddenly take an interest in how much saturated fat or added sugar they contain. Perhaps you’ll start buying cholesterol-lowering foods.
A sudden take-up of exercise may also result in closer scrutiny of your health in general. It’s likely to reveal existing health issues or imbalances that previously flew below the radar. That, in turn, may cause you to drastically alter your diet.
One health issue that many cyclists have is dehydration. A lot of people don’t drink enough water on or off the bike. Thus, they’re more prone to heat exhaustion in high temperatures or ailments like headaches and cramps after bike rides.
Alcohol is an indulgence that invariably affects cycling performance. It won’t make much difference to a 15-minute casual bike commute, but your ability to ride far or fast on a bike is impaired if you drink a significant quantity of alcohol the night before.
6. Binge Eating Junk Food (Bad)
A sudden regime of exercise can have the opposite effect to eating healthily or losing weight. Most cyclists have, at some point, been on a bike ride and filled their faces with any food they can lay their hands on afterward.
The obvious advice is not to use exercise as an excuse for eating badly. It’s okay to consume fast-acting carbs on the bike to fuel a ride, but you should avoid eating fatty or sugary foods in large quantities in between rides.
If you’re starving hungry after a ride, it might be because you pushed yourself hard and burned off all your energy reserves. Riding hard for 90-120 minutes will do that.
Many cyclists ride at a higher intensity than is necessary to become fit. And they do it on every ride. This makes recovery more difficult, especially for older riders, and may cause overeating.
Regular cycling will make you leaner and fitter if you use it as a reason to address other unhealthy habits you may have.
7. Get Fitter & Faster (Good)
Many cyclists would like to ride faster on a bike than they do. They’ll push themselves hard to go as fast as they can. Cycling speed is a sign of fitness, but you don’t need to be super-fit or super-fast to benefit from riding.
The desire to get faster and fitter on a bike is a good thing provided it’s done sensibly. If you’re commuting, for instance, you don’t want to arrive to work as a sweaty mess or accumulate fatigue.
A popular way to improve fitness is polarized training. That involves doing most of your riding at low intensity (at least 80%). It depends to a large degree on time spent riding rather than the speed you ride, so regular rides help.
Throwing in a few long, slow rides (2.5 to 3 hours +) is an effective way to build a base of aerobic fitness, which also makes you faster. Trying to ride quickly without building this base is likely to result in frustration and tiredness.
There are also training plans for time-crunched cyclists. These involve a greater proportion of high-intensity intervals and an occasional slow ride.
You can track your fitness using various online tools, like Strava (subscription membership), Training Peaks, or intervals.icu. To do this, you need some way to measure your effort, whether it’s a heart rate monitor or a power meter.
8. Boost Core Strength (Good)
Core strength exercises are often recommended for cyclists, but riding a bike builds your core strength to an extent. That’s especially true with sportier bikes where you adopt a forward posture. Examples include road bikes and hybrid bikes.
When you first start riding a road bike or return to it after a long rest, you may lean too heavily on the handlebar. This can create hand or wrist problems. But after a few rides, this is quite likely to alleviate as your core strength increases.
Core strength is useful for balance and stability on and off of the bike. You can do exercises off the bike to help with this, like “the plank”. Core strength improves pedaling efficiency as well as making you feel more comfortable over distance.
9. Vulnerable Mode Of Transport (Bad)
For all the good cycling does for you and the environment, unfortunately, it’s not risk-free. Some drivers are disdainful of cyclists, impatient, and willing to put you in danger to reach their destination 10 seconds faster. Some make poor decisions.
If you can minimize your contact with traffic on daily rides, so much the better. This might mean taking quieter roads or trails where possible.
Sometimes, the safest way to ride a bike is assertively. That might mean “taking the lane” if there isn’t a safe amount of space for following motorists to pass you. As long as you are making reasonable progress, this is legitimate riding.
In some places, taking the lane is encouraged and signified by a cyclist symbol in the middle of the road. You can be sure that some motorists will squeeze past you at an unsafe distance if you move to one side.
10. Save Money (Good)
If you cycle every day, chances are you’re using a bike for getting to work or your daily chores.
Read more: Benefits of bike commuting
On top of all the health benefits this brings, it also saves money. You’ll save on fuel or public transport costs as well as maintenance bills on any vehicle you own.
Of course, if you become hooked on cycling, the cost of buying flashy bikes and components is considerable. However, you can run a bike for months or years on little money. It gets cheaper still if you teach yourself some basic bike maintenance.
The kind of knockabout bike you might ride every day for commutes and chores can be acquired cheaply on the secondhand market. This is a good way to go if you need to leave the bike on its own for any length of time, as theft is less likely.
11. Environmental Benefits (Good)
Every time we drive, we contribute a tiny amount to global warming. That happens with most vehicles, whether they throw out toxic emissions from their tailpipes or rely on fossil fuels being burned at some distant power plant.
The future of driving lies with electric cars powered by renewable energy. Meanwhile, we still need to travel. Any short journey you can make on a bike contributes nothing to global warming. Riding a bike reduces your carbon footprint.
What about e-bikes? As mentioned by Bosch (manufacturer of many e-bike motors), electric bikes are patently not as eco-friendly as manual bikes. On the plus side, they’re great for replacing far more damaging car trips.
A point in favor of e-bikes is that people might use them to replace mid-range car journeys. Many cyclists aren’t going to ride 5-15 miles on a regular bike to carry out a chore, for instance, but they might do so on an e-bike.
In any case, daily bike riding is a way to reduce the damage we do to the environment. And that’s on top of all the personal benefits it offers.