Pedal power

Stay healthy, stay smart. Cycle to work everyday, says Santana Fell

  • Published 4.07.18

Cycling is all the rage these days with cycling marathons, cycle rentals (PEDL Cycle rents cycles at Re 1 for half an hour), cycle lanes being set up in the city and people giving up cars to cycle to work. This trend is not only good for our health but also for the environment.

"I cycle about 10-15km to and from work regularly. It gets me to work faster. I always arrive in a good mood and I can even run errands on my way home," says 52-year-old Aruna Bhaskar from Calcutta.

Cycling is a great way to commit to fitness, beat traffic and burn calories, while being easy on the pocket. And it also has other benefits.

Protects against disease

Research at the University of Glasgow in the UK has highlighted the benefits of cycling and walking to work. The study, published in the journal BMJ, found that compared to "a non-active commute", riding a bicycle to work was associated with a 45 per cent lower risk of cancer and a 46 per cent lower risk of heart disease. Other studies have shown that cycling also reduces the risk of bowel cancer and, to some extent, breast cancer.

Regular cycling improves heart, lungs and circulation, reducing chances of heart disease. It strengthens heart muscles, lowers resting pulse and reduces blood fat levels. Pedalling is also a good way to control or reduce weight as it builds muscle, raises metabolic rate and burns body fat. Riding a bicycle is the ideal way to stay fit if you have osteoarthritis because it is a low-impact exercise that puts little stress on joints.

Improves mental health

A 2011 study by the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry in Plymouth, UK, determined that any outdoor physical activity - walking, trekking, cycling - led to feelings of revitalisation, increased energy and positive engagement, together with a decrease in tension, confusion, anger and depression. Cycling also increases the levels of "happy" chemicals serotonin and dopamine in our brains, putting us in a good mood. It also improves the body's ability to regulate hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, resulting in better management of stress. A 2001 study published in Behaviour Research and Therapy also found that aerobic exercise can reduce generalised anxiety. While high-intensity aerobic exercise was found to have more impact, low-intensity exercise like cycling was also effective.

"I have been cycling for the last 25 years - four times a week, for fitness and because it helps clear the head," says Alan Hick, a 51-year-old Australian who owns an expensive Cannondale Road bicycle.

Makes you smarter

In a study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, scientists found that people scored better on tests of memory, reasoning and planning after 30 minutes of spinning on a stationary bike. They also completed the tests faster.

Cycling can build up your brain just like it builds up muscles. When you pedal, you force more nerve cells to fire. As these neurons light up, they intensify the creation of proteins like brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and a compound called Noggin, which promotes the formation of new brain cells. This results in double or triple the production of neurons - literally building your brain. You also release neurotransmitters, so all those cells, new and old, can communicate with each other better for faster functioning. The benefits of cycling are especially important for aging brains. These processes counteract the natural decline of brain function and development as we age.

Increases immunity

Scientists carried out tests on 125 amateur cyclists aged 55 to 79 and compared them with healthy adults who did not exercise regularly. The findings, outlined in two papers in the journal Aging Cell, showed that the cyclists preserved muscle mass and strength with age while maintaining stable levels of body fat and cholesterol. In men, testosterone levels remained high. The anti-ageing effects of cycling appeared to extend to the immune system. An organ called the thymus, which makes immune cells called T-cells, normally starts to shrink from the age of 20. But the thymus of older cyclists were found to be generating as many T-cells as those of young people.

"We started Pulsing Pedals in 2016. Now we have over 100 members, of whom about 80 cycle together, everyday," says businessman Kunal Guha.

"Outdoor cycling boosts endorphins and adrenaline, builds muscles, improves cardiovascular endurance, aids lung capacity, betters heart condition. Cycling burns between 400-1000 calories an hour, depending on intensity. It is also easier on the joints... Indoor cycling is a good option when going outdoors is an issue and time management is difficult," says Dev Sharma, fitness trainer at Rush Fitness Club in Alipore, Calcutta.

Cycling is easy to fit into your daily routine. Ride to the shops, park, school or work. Save money, stay fit.

Safety first

• Stay hydrated; use sunscreen and sunglasses
• The seat height should allow a slight bend at your knee. A saddle that is too high or too low places stress on the knees
• Don’t uses clips to fix your feet to the pedals. It can make injuries worse if you fall
• A helmet is a must as are comfortable clothes and shoes. 
• Do stretches before getting on a cycle
• To prevent lower back pain, keep your back straight while riding.
• Keep the elbows slightly flexed to stop ‘road shock’ transferring to the arms and upper body.