Biking for Health and Fitness

Out of all the sports out there that anyone can do, biking is one of the best for losing weight, getting in shape, and getting healthy. You burn about 380 calories an hour even if you’re going at a very leisurely pace (subtract 50 if you’re on a stationary bike). It strengthens the leg muscles, of course, but also muscles all over your body that are required to help balance you and the bike. And it’s an aerobic exercise, good for your heart and lungs. How does it compare to other similar activities?

Running is an excellent sport for fitness, but it’s also a very high impact sport that puts a lot of pressure on your joints, particularly your knees. This rules it out for many people as an exercise they can take up for fitness purposes. Walking is much lower impact and less hard on joints, but it still offers excellent health benefits. It can be done outdoors or indoors—thousands of mall walkers can attest to that—and requires no special equipment except a good pair of supportive shoes. But many people find walking downright boring. Especially indoor walking where you loop the same path dozens of times. Swimming is great exercise, but you’ll need a pool where you can actually swim laps to get much aerobic benefit from the exercise. This isn’t possible for everyone.

Biking, however, is something almost anyone can do.  A basic bicycle can cost less than $200 new, and you’ll get the low-impact and conditioning benefits of walking at a decent pace. For those who find walking tedious, the same amount of time spent on a bike can cover much more ground, and feel a bit more exciting, too. And if the weather’s too bad outdoors, you can always hop on a stationary bike for a similar biking workout—a small device can be purchased that you can use with your regular bicycle to make it stationary so you won’t even need special equipment.

Biking is much easier on your joints than running, but it’s even less stressful on them than walking. Because the bike supports your weight, and pushing the pedals is an elliptical motion where you’re not lifting the foot and putting it back down, it’s a smooth movement with no jarring motions which is easiest on your joints. But it still gives you a good cardiovascular workout, especially if you keep a faster pace, or cycle back and forth between a steady, even pace and two-minute bursts of quick pedaling.

Just like running or walking, biking can be done with an exercise buddy or bicycle enthusiast, or it can be done in a group. And there’s no age limit.  You can take off with the whole family for a quick bike ride just for the exercise or spend an afternoon on a local bike trail or path. Little ones on tricycles or smaller ones in special bike seats can enjoy the ride, too, which makes biking an exercise that’s fun for the whole family.