With the annual multi-stage Tour de France in full swing, many of us are tempted to head back to the garage and pull out our tragically neglected bikes. The great thing about cycling is that it offers a great method of getting some low-impact exercise in the great outdoors, and you don't have to repeat the 2,000-mile race to get a little bit of your own Tour de France.
From top cyclists to the seriously ill, there is something for everyone when it comes to cycling. So if you're wondering how you're up to the challenge of moving a little more this summer, you've come to the right place.
Robert Duran is a cancer survivor who bikes to the University of California Medical Center to undergo treatment for his diagnosis of stage IV pancreatic cancer. Overall, he counts somewhere in the region of 50 to 100 miles of cycling every week. If he can make the effort to stay active, there's a good chance you can too, as there are a plethora of health benefits from getting on your bike.
"Cycling is one of my favorite things to do and my favorite thing to do because it puts me in my happy environment," says Duran. "When it comes to cycling, nothing else matters, not even cancer, and that's why I ride my bike as much as possible... even on the days I'm having chemotherapy. And when I'm not cycling, I add in high-intensity exercise to work different muscle groups. Exercise gives me the strength to fight cancer and lead a normal life.”
Of course, there is no substitute for professional medical treatment, medication and chemotherapy, but people with all sorts of health conditions can benefit from cycling.
David S. Levine, MD is a foot and ankle specialist in New York. He has the "Excellence in orthopedics” award from his peers, and he is also a proponent of the value of cycling.
Cycling is a great thing for physical and mental health
"Cycling is a low-impact cardio form of exercise," says Dr. Levine. “As such, muscles, including the heart, are trained to work efficiently and grow modestly. Weight-bearing joints are loaded, but not unduly, thereby avoiding overuse that can lead to injury and arthritis over time. The lungs are trained to efficiently take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. Cycling can be done in groups; Strengthening friendships and promoting healthy competition and encouragement to improve.”
The social excitement of cycling in a community is something Duran wholeheartedly agrees with. He has met a number of fellow cyclists through his work with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and developed great friendships over the years. "Riding bikes with friends is very important for my mental health," he says. “It's a way of holding myself accountable for being consistent in my riding and having a meaningful impact not only on myself but on my friends as well. If I say I'm going to go by a certain date and time, I better show up. But I also see it as a challenge to compete with my friends and other cyclists along the route.”
Vigorous exercise activates your muscles, stimulates brain activity, and causes the release of endorphins, says Dr. Levine. These conditions often produce the sensations of awareness, focus, and euphoria that are sometimes referred to as a natural or runner's high.
Cycling is great for building resilience
"Regular exercise like cycling has a positive effect on the immune system," explains Levin.
Some of the reasons, according to Levine, are:
- Increasing heart rate and breathing rate increases blood flow and oxygenation of body tissues.
- Exercise activates a number of hormones that upregulate the endocrine/immune system.
- Often people who exercise regularly develop a healthy body mass index (BMI) and a nutritious diet and lifestyle.
For people with serious health conditions like Duran, boosting the immune system through sensible exercise within its limits is so important. If you're worried that you're trying too hard, you can stay on track by allowing enough recovery time. "I think it's important to physically rest and recover, and I think it's also important to mentally rest," says Duran. “Because I ride my bike a lot, I'm mentally relaxed and happy. As a result, many trivial things in life and stressful situations don’t bother me so much.”
Photo by Angel Santos on Unsplash
Cycling is a great way to rehabilitate an injury
"Depending on the type of injury, exercise like bicycling can be particularly helpful," says Levine. “As an orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon, I often perform surgical repairs on broken ankles. While these patients are unable to walk early in their recovery, stationary cycling promotes muscle function and avoids atrophy. It also maintains movement of an injured or repaired ankle and is helpful in maintaining and nourishing the cartilage. Of course, one should consult one's doctor before beginning any intense exercise program. However, responsible, low-impact, progressive training is rarely contraindicated.” Levine states that a healthy diet high in vitamin D and calcium, along with adequate sleep, is the best "adjunct" to an indoor or outdoor cycling program.
Cycling is a great sense of achievement
"Sometimes I don't feel like getting ready for a ride in bad weather," says Duran. “But I ride anyway and during the ride the endorphins kick in and I feel energized. Then comes the dopamine rush and I feel a great sense of fulfillment and well-being after the ride. These positive effects of cycling carry me through my chemotherapy and are why I have the energy to lead a normal life.”
So, just pedal and enjoy the ride.