Regular cycling can help you lose weight, reduce stress and improve your fitness.
It places little or no impact on the knees, ankles and back and helps promote the mobility of the hip and knee joints. Regular cycling also improves balance and co-ordination. No wonder it is the third most popular sport in the UK, with an estimated 3.1 million people riding a bike each month.
You can improve your aerobic fitness by 11% in 6 weeks by cycling just short distances 4 times a week, a study carried out by the Department Of Transport reveals. And, according to the British Heart Foundation, cycling at least 20 miles per week reduces the risk of coronary heart disease to less than half that for non-cyclists.
Cycling at a gentle 12 mph on a flat road uses 450 calories per hour. It also makes you feel younger and reduces stress. Plus, it is claimed that cycling raises the speed of your metabolism for hours afterwards, so your body continues to burn calories even after exercise. Alongside this you will be toning the quadriceps, hamstrings and calf muscles.
Buying a bicycle can be quite expensive, but you may be able to save money with the government’s Cycle to Work scheme. You buy a bike through your employer and pay for it out of your wages over the year (in 12 monthly payments) and, because this deduction is made before tax, you can save up to 40% on the cost of the bike. We know the scheme works, as a member of our team has benefited from it. Find out more at https://www.cyclescheme.co.uk/get-a-bike/how-it-works
In the saddle
The bike you buy is important, as you need one that suits you – and this is where your local bicycle shop can help. Try out lots of different bikes and make sure that the seat is adjusted correctly – you should have a slight bend in the knee when your foot is at its lowest point. You should also have the handlebars adjusted so that you are not reaching too far, just leaning slightly forward, so as not to place any strain on your back. Drop your shoulders and relax.
If you can manage it, one of the best ways to build up your fitness levels is to cycle twice during the week and then go for a longer ride at the weekend – you could involve the family in this one!
The Forestry Commission England has a brilliant section that lists trails that are suitable for all the family up to full-on red- and black-graded singletrack trails. It also gives details of bike hire at: https://www.forestryengland.uk/cycling
Your cycling checklist
For much more information on getting your bike ready, having the right kit and safety tips go to http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/fitness/Pages/Cycling.aspx