Cycling: a sport with multiple benefits!

Favorite means of transport for the French, who are increasingly adopting it to go to work or for their daily trips: the bicycle is more popular than ever! And that's a good thing, because it's also one of the sports with the most health benefits. Whether road, city, racing, off-road or even elliptical, cycling is good for our body. Doctor Colette Nordmann, Sports Health doctor at the French Cycling Federation, talks to us about the health benefits of the little queen.

The many health benefits of cycling

Cycling is a real health sport , in many ways. First of all, its practice helps improve ventilation or air circulation in the lungs, and therefore lung capacity. It is therefore recommended for people who suffer from chronic respiratory diseases, such as asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

By increasing the production of antibodies, it also helps strengthen the immune system , to better fight viruses and bacteria. 

This sport is also good for the joints, unlike running, another endurance sport very popular with the French. “  Cycling is a worn sport , which limits impacts and joint trauma . It strengthens the muscles, therefore shortens them: thus the muscle frees up the joint space. Furthermore, rotational movements of the ankle, knee and hip  promote the secretion of synovial fluid , which lubricates the joint and allows it to function better,” lists Dr. Nordmann. Cycling is therefore not contraindicated in the presence of osteoarthritis  of the knee (unless the pain increases) and is even recommended for people suffering from coxarthrosis, namely osteoarthritis of the hip.

Cycling helps to work on balance and coordination , two essential points to limit the risk of falling, a particularly important benefit for seniors. Alternative solutions of stationary bikes or tricycles will be offered in the event of balance problems.

This endurance sport helps to reduce chronic inflammation , and therefore to prevent the occurrence of all chronic pathologies linked to inflammation, and there are many of them! Cycling finally promotes better blood circulation which helps eliminate toxins from the body and stimulates the production of collagen, thus slowing the effects of aging on the skin.

To corroborate all these health benefits, science has repeatedly looked at the benefits of this sport on the prevalence of certain common diseases. Based on a synthesis of several international studies, a French report carried out in 2013 for the Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, and bringing together the results of several international studies, quantified the reduction of risks for some major pathologies. It observed a reduced risk of 30% for coronary heart disease, 24% for cerebrovascular disease, 20% for type 2 diabetes , 15% for breast cancer , and finally 40% for cancer. of the colon  !

A physical and cardio sport: good for the heart

The most important benefit of cycling is certainly its ability to improve heart health and limit the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Cycling is the sport that allows you to most harmoniously modify the 4 cardiac chambers: namely the two atria and the two ventricles. When practiced regularly for endurance, cycling can reduce cardiovascular mortality by 35%. Dr Colette Nordmann, Sports Health doctor at the French Cycling Federation

Regular cycling – i.e. 2 to 3 times per week – also helps reduce a large number of cardiovascular risk factors, namely:

  • reduce blood triglycerides;
  • improve the atherogenic profile of circulating lipids: “ HDL cholesterol (or good cholesterol) increases and LDL (bad) decreases,” explains the specialist;
  • increase the vascularity of the heart and all the vessels of the body, but “a more vascularized heart is less at risk of heart attacks  or less serious infarctions,” she adds;
  • reduce heart rate;
  • reduce blood pressure.

Thighs, glutes, calves, arms: What parts of the body and muscles does cycling work?

Cycling is a very complete physical activity that works many muscles in the body. The most stressed part is undoubtedly the lower body:

  • the thighs are particularly put to the test, especially the quadriceps and hamstrings;
  • the glutes also work intensely, especially when going uphill or when pedaling like a dancer, standing on tiptoes;
  • the calves , for their part, are also used during the pushing phase of the pedal.

The upper body, although less stressed than the lower body, is not left out. The biceps and triceps help hold the handlebars, and the shoulder and back muscles help balance the entire body on the bike.

The intensity of the effort and the number of muscles used vary depending on the position on the bike (sitting, dancing), the type of bike (road, mountain bike, exercise bike) and the pedaling technique.

The psychological benefits of cycling

Like any physical activity, cycling promotes the secretion of several hormones and neurotransmitters that cause a feeling of well-being  : serotonin , dopamine and endorphins . This is the reason why, after about twenty minutes of sport, we feel so good, even euphoric!
“Cycling also has the advantage of being practiced outdoors, so added light and contact with nature which also contribute a lot to well-being! », adds Dr. Nordmann. Cycling is also often practiced by several people, from family outings to group training, so it promotes social bonds and helps combat isolation.

Finally, cycling strengthens the heart muscle and therefore helps to promote the flow of blood to the brain and with it the neurotransmitters (serotonin and dopamine) of well-being.

All these associated benefits make cycling a sport which contributes to mental health, and which makes it possible to fight very effectively against depressive states. It also helps limit the risk of dementia and is a useful prevention against neurodegenerative diseases. Dr. Nordmann.

Does cycling slim the body?

Cycling is a sport that can be very energy-intensive when practiced intensively, since it can burn up to 650 calories per hour . It then helps to considerably increase daily calorie expenditure and draw on fat reserves.

“However, practiced intensively, track or climber cycling does not refine the thighs, but rather tends to make them gain volume . Proof of this is the diameter of the thighs of professional cyclists,” emphasizes Dr. Nordmann.

Practiced at lower intensity as an amateur, for walks, journeys, hiking... cycling, on the other hand, does not risk making the thighs swell, but will have a greater tendency to shape the silhouette. It helps to increase muscle mass which consumes more energy. “Regular cycling therefore makes it possible to increase the basic  metabolism – i.e. the number of calories burned by the body –  to the detriment of fat mass for a slimmer silhouette,” concludes the specialist.


What are the benefits for older people?

Cycling is an activity that offers many benefits to older people. Used as a means of transport, it firstly allows them to maintain autonomy and mobility and is particularly practical for those who have difficulty getting around on foot. “  Age is not an obstacle to cycling, quite the contrary  ! And depending on the difficulties encountered, there are alternatives to the traditional bicycle. People who have balance problems can use a tricycle, those who suffer from back problems will choose recumbent bikes and people who are obese or  have heart failure can opt for electrically assisted bikes,” says the doctor. of federation. On a physical level, cycling is a low-impact activity that protects the joints, particularly those of the knees. Major advantage for elderly people often prone to osteoarthritis.

Cycling is beneficial for the brain health of seniors , as it is associated with improved cognitive abilities and can help prevent age-related cognitive changes. It is also a great way to improve memory and boost the immune system. And from a psychological point of view , cycling, especially in nature and in a group, can help reduce the risk of depression, anxiety, stress and isolation.

And for the children?

“A sedentary lifestyle is increasing among children and it’s quite frightening! We are starting to see chronic pathologies in young adults, until now reserved for older people. It is essential to reverse the trend and get children moving as much as possible  ! », insists Dr. Nordmann. Cycling is a very fun activity that allows children to exercise and have fun while enjoying the outdoors. It's also the favorite physical activity of 4 to 12 year olds, so let's take advantage of it!
By using all of their muscles and improving their coordination, cycling contributes to children's motor development. It also trains their ability to maintain balance while moving around and enjoying their surroundings.

In addition to these physical benefits, cycling also has a positive impact on the psychomotor development of children  : it strengthens their autonomy, their self-confidence and their ability to concentrate. And when practiced in a group or club, it promotes socialization.

Finally, it is an excellent way for them to acquire essential skills, such as respecting traffic rules and being aware of the space around them.

How many sessions per day or per week?

The more you pedal, the better!

All the sessions that we do, over a week or even over a day, are cumulative: 15 minutes to go to your workplace, 5 minutes to go get bread, 10 minutes to pick up the little one from daycare and the bring back on the baby carrier... everything is good to go! Dr. Nordmann.

For those who cycle more diligently or in a club, 2 to 3 “sporty” outings per week are an ideal pace to benefit from the health benefits of this sport. You can ideally add daily walks to get to your workplace of course.

What accessories?

Some accessories are recommended for regular cycling. “  Wearing a helmet is compulsory for children, and strongly recommended for adults, because even if we do everything to avoid them: the risk of falling exists! », recalls Dr. Nordmann.

A fluorescent vest and lights are essential to be visible to other users, especially when riding at night or in bad weather.
For long outings, and even more so in hot weather, remember to take a bottle of water to stay hydrated!

Finally, when you start cycling regularly, nothing is more unpleasant than the friction of pants on your thighs. To avoid this, investing in cycling shorts is essential!

What power supply in the event of a long outing?

“The most important thing is hydration! It is essential to drink well before, during and after the session  ,” insists the specialist, who recommends drinking on average every half hour. “And if the outing lasts more than 2 hours , you can add a small sweet snack , like a banana or a handful of dried fruit.”

Aside from outings and races, a cyclist's diet must be that of anyone who takes care of their health: balanced and diversified. When and what to eat before practice  ? “In preparation for a long outing, we recommend making a digestible meal, based on complex carbohydrates and low in fat, and leaving at least two to three hours before hitting the road,  ” suggests Dr. Nordmann. It is absolutely necessary to avoid cycling while the body is in the process of digestion, at the risk of being weakened or even sick! “Digestion stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system while sport stimulates the sympathetic: but the two cannot work together. And as effort takes precedence over digestion, there is a risk of nausea or even vomiting,” emphasizes the specialist.

What are the benefits of the exercise bike or elliptical bike?

The exercise bike provides exactly the same health benefits as the traditional bike, with the exception that it is not practiced outdoors and therefore does not provide all the psychological benefits linked to contact with nature.

The exercise bike, on the other hand, is particularly interesting for people: in physical recovery after convalescence, those who have balance, vision or sensory disorders, with greater risks of falling, or those suffering from pathologies involving a specific heart rhythm. Dr. Nordmann.

The elliptical bike, for its part, is even more complete than the traditional bike on a muscular level, because it places a lot of strain on the arms, back and shoulders in addition to the muscles usually used on a bike.