In business circles, cycling is being called the new golf. Selene Yeager explains the health benefits of pedal power
In what is the latest of at least a dozen feature articles in as many years, The New York Times recently ran a commentary, heralding cycling as the ‘new golf’, above all in the tech sector, where entrepreneurs get together for regular rides designed for networking at the same fast pace as these tech execs move – on and off the bike.
‘What I like about cycling, is a ride can be any length, and most people know how to ride a bike,’ Ali Behnam, co-founder of Riviera Partners, a national recruiting company that includes Dropbox, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Uber among its clients, told the Times, noting that it was also less of a time commitment than playing 18, or even nine, holes.
Also, whether or not you seal a certain deal out there on the open road, you will have made a serious investment in your health, which is something that business people with high-stress jobs can benefit from, says USA Cycling coach James Herrera, who offers executive health and wellness seminars through his company Performance Driven Coaching. ‘Sedentary work, high stress, and a free-flowing supply of caffeine and sugary, fatty snacks is a recipe for disaster, yet that’s exactly what these men and women face every single day,’ he says. ‘Regular exercise, specifically the endurance variety such as cycling, is a saving grace for many executives.’
Say goodbye to stress
All those benefits just from riding a bike? Science says yes. And it starts with stress. Anxiety, stress and burnout are serious, global burdens costing employers billions each year, not to mention the toll it takes on your personal well-being. Riding a bike or performing another endurance activity for just 30 minutes, three times a week dramatically improved burnout levels in a group of highly stressed workers, according to a study that was published last year in the journal PeerJ.
Riding helps burn off fight-or-flight hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol, which are ever-present in our 24/7 lives. It also boosts the production of feel- good chemicals, particularly serotonin, says Dr J David Glass, a brain-chemistry researcher at Kent State University in Ohio, who has studied the effects of exercise on the brain in the lab. ‘As soon as our little lab rats get going on their wheels, they start experiencing a 100- to 200% increase in serotonin levels,’ he says.
If that doesn’t make you feel better, as you pedal past the 20- to 30-minute mark, you also get a hit of chemicals such as endorphins and cannabinoids (the same family of chemicals that give marijuana smokers their high). One study found that 24 men who either ran or cycled at a moderate intensity for about 50 minutes were found to have high blood levels of anandamide, a natural cannabinoid, in their systems, while a similar group who sat quietly for the same period of time had none.
All of this research helps explain why regular exercise such as cycling helps to keep mental illnesses such as depression at bay, the prevalence of which has been found to rise in people who have sedentary, high-stress jobs.
Cognitively, cycling builds your brain – literally. As you pedal, your heart pumps more blood to working muscles and to your brain, which in turn stimulates the production of more blood vessels in your brain, so you can get more oxygen and nutrients coursing through your grey matter.
Exercise such as cycling also forces more nerve cells to fire and increases the production of growth factors, both of which boost the formation of new brain cells, says Dr Brian R Christie, programme director of neuroscience at the University of British Columbia. ‘You are doubling or tripling the production of neurons compared to a “couch potato”,’ he says. You also improve communication between all of your brain cells, giving you better, faster brain function.
Build a stronger heart
Pedalling a bike puts all your large lower- body muscles to work, which in turn, gets your heart rate up and helps make your heart stronger and improves your ability to use oxygen, which ultimately makes your cardiovascular system more efficient on and off the bike. Maybe the best part, it really doesn’t take much to get the job done. Even if you don’t have time for long midday rides, hopping aboard a bike to carry out short trips of even just 10 to 15 minutes in duration can help keep your heart healthy. To show the impact of these short bits of activity, researchers published
a report in the American College of Sports Medicine’s journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (MSSE) where they tracked the activity level and heart health of more than 1 500 men and women for a period of five years. In the end, those who managed to rack up the highest amount of short-burst activity (the average was 28 minutes) a day were 31% less likely
to develop high blood pressure than those who had accumulated the least.
High stress, sedentary jobs pack on pounds. Pedalling a bike takes them off. Obviously, the faster, harder and longer you ride, the more calories you burn. But even cycling at a recreational 20 to 25 km/h pace will burn about 2 000 kJ in an hour’s ride.
Your body will also continue to burn more calories after you’ve racked your bike. That’s because cycling builds lean muscle tissue, which helps bump up your basal metabolic rate (BMR), the calories you burn when you’re sitting in meetings, working at your desk and otherwise not exercising. Hard rides can really spike your post-ride afterburn, because your body will still be working to repair and rebuild your muscles for your next ride. Research shows that just 30 to 45 minutes of exercise such as cycling is all it takes to permanently raise your BMR.
Slash your heart disease risk
Having a lower weight and stronger heart can help ward off metabolic conditions such as diabetes, and other conditions that have been linked to being sedentary and overweight, including cancer.
A Scandinavian study of more than 40 700 men from the ages of 45 to 79 found a direct relationship between the amount of time the men spent cycling and their risk of being diagnosed with cancer. The researchers found that biking for just half an hour a day was enough
to reduce cancer risk by 34%. The study, which was published in the British Journal of Cancer, also found that cycling helped improve the recovery rate of those who were diagnosed with the disease.
You will even stave off more everyday health annoyances, such as the common cold. Exercise such as cycling prompts your body to move germ-fighting white blood cells out of your lymph nodes and into circulation, where they can seek and destroy invading viruses and bacteria. It is also interesting to note that research has shown that people who do exercise regularly have about 45% fewer colds, sore throats and upper respiratory infections than those who aren’t active.
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