If you adore feeling the wind tousle your hair as you whiz down the street on your mountain bike or cruiser, you can feel good knowing that you're getting a healthy cadio workout. However, cycling also comes with some serious safety issues, and it doesn't meet all of your workout needs. The best strategy is to fit a variety of cardio and weight-training activities into your schedule -- and take precautions to protect yourself as you zip off on your two-wheeler.
Cycling is an aerobic activity, so it offers some healthy perks, like reduced blood pressure and cholesterol levels as well as increased stamina to help get you through your day. The exercise forces your heart and lungs to work harder as you pedal, which increases circulation and respiratory function over time. In addition, cardio activities like cycling help your immune system run at peak performance so you're less likely to catch nasty colds and viral infections. According to the Mayo Clinic, the exercise even increases endorphin levels in your brain to make you happier.
Cycling can burn major calories: At 12 to 14 mph, a 155-pound woman burns an impressive 300 calories in just 30 minutes. Bumping the speed up to 14 to 16 mph, she burns about 370 calories in the same time. It takes a deficit of roughly 3,500 calories to burn 1 pound fat, so even if you did nothing to change your diet you could lose a pound in just 10 cycling sessions at the right speed. However, you won't lose weight if you replace the lost calories with extra food.
Despite the benefits of cycling, it doesn't provide the same bone-building rewards as weight-bearing cardio or strength training. While walking, running and lifting weights all place stress on your bones, which triggers them to bulk up, cycling doesn't provide enough resistance or impact to create the same effect. Bone building is especially important for women, who have lower bone density than men and are at greater risk of osteoporosis. Treating your bones right while you're young can help prevent problems later in life, so participate in bone-friendly exercises regularly and eat foods rich in calcium and vitamin D.
With some dangerous drivers on the roads, cycling outdoors leaves you more vulnerable to accidents than indoor cardio activities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that emergency rooms admitted 515,000 cyclists in 2010, and 800 cyclists were killed that year as well. Using a stationary bike at home or the gym eliminates the risks of the road; if you must hit the streets, stay safer by wearing a helmet at all times and donning reflective gear at night. Obey all traffic laws as you ride and use hand signals to communicate with drivers. Unsafe bikes can also cause accidents, so perform regular maintenance to avoid unexpected breakdowns.
- MayoClinic.com: Aerobic Exercise: Top 10 Reasons to Get Physical
- Harvard Health Publications: Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: Exercise for Your Bone Health
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Head Injuries and Bicycle Safety
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.