Pedal power

We take a look at some of the reasons why cycling could help to boost your health and wellbeing

Whether you want to get fitter and healthier or you’re just looking for a new hobby, taking up cycling could have a very positive effect on your life.

How to choose the right bike

The first question you need to answer is: when do you want to use your bike and where do you want it to take you? Your bike should complement your lifestyle, so choose the type which reflects the majority of journeys you want to make for a more comfortable and enjoyable ride. Whatever bike you decide to go for, make sure you try out different styles and sizes, and you get professional advice on setting up the bike to ensure a good fit. Like any machine, a bicycle will work better and last longer if you care for it properly. Get in the habit of checking it regularly – simple checks and maintenance are a great way to help you enjoy cycling.

According to statistics, adults who cycle regularly have fitness levels of someone up to 10 years younger. Furthermore, cycling helps to achieve the minimum recommended target of 30 minutes of exercise a day – the perfect length of time for short, local journeys by bike.

In terms of calorie burn, moderate pedal-pushing burns up to 500 calories per hour, which is more than walking or swimming, whilst a 20-minute bike ride to work could use the same amount of calories as a cappuccino, a bar of chocolate or a 175ml glass of wine!

Physical activity like cycling has been shown to greatly reduce the chances of several serious illnesses. According to a major study by the University of Glasgow, cycling to work lowers the risk of dying early by 40 per cent, and reduces the chance of developing cancer by 45 per cent.

How to become a better cyclist

“The best thing to do is find a route you feel comfortable with,” advises Katie Aartse-Tuyn, a keen cyclist who works at Sustrans, the walking and cyclist charity, in the Change Behaviour team. “Remember you can always get off and walk up the hills, or push your bike on the pavement if there is a section you don’t yet feel confident cycling on.” Here are some more of Katie’s top tips for improving your cycling abilities:

  • Cycle training is by far one of the best ways to boost your confidence on two wheels. Whether you’re getting on a bike for the first time or a regular cyclist looking to improve your skills on busy roads, instructors provide expert personalised tuition to suit your individual abilities and goals. Sustrans officers provide cycle training in many areas but if you don’t have one, visit bikeability.org.uk or ask your local authority.

  • Find your local NCN – the National Cycle Network – which is a series of traffic-free paths and quiet, on-road cycling and walking routes that connect every major city and town.”

  • Learn some basics of road cycling – knowing how to signal, position yourself and use roundabouts will boost your confidence, especially on a busier road.

  • Once you know the basics of road cycling, you can start to enjoy using a bike for everyday journeys to work, school or to visit friends. You could even ask a colleague or friend who cycles if they could help find a route that works for you.

Case Study

“I feel happier and healthier than I have for years”
Lorreine Kennedy, 55, started cycling the 12-mile round trip between Watford and Hemel Hempstead two years ago. She now rides her bike to work at least three times a week, come rain or shine, and wouldn’t want to commute any other way. Regular cycling has helped her to totally change her lifestyle. She feels fitter and healthier than ever before.

She says: “Over two years ago I found out I was pre-hypertensive and at risk of developing dangerously high blood pressure. My doctor warned that I would probably need to take medication to keep my blood pressure in check but I wasn’t having any of it. I decided there and then to buy a bike instead. Having not ridden since I was 12 years old, I spent the first few months riding around local roads and cycle paths, gradually building up my fitness and confidence. It felt awesome being back in the saddle so I kept doing more and more until I found I could cycle about five miles a day. I was amazed how quickly my fitness levels went up and my blood pressure went down. My doctor was impressed too.

“I got up very early one Sunday morning – around 6.30am – and cycled all the way to the office and back again: a total of 12 miles. It was that Sunday that changed my life. Now when I ride to work I speak to around 30 people on the way and arrive smiling, de-stressed and feeling happy. I’ve made a network of new friends through cycling, my legs and arms are toned and stronger, and I feel happier and healthier than I have for years.”

Sustrans, the walking and cycling charity, celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. The charity is the guardian of the National Cycle Network – a series of traffic-free paths and quiet on-road cycling routes that have inspired millions of people to get on their bikes. For more advice on bikes, how to get started, cycle training and inspiration, head to www.sustrans.org.uk.

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