From deeper sleep to lower chronic disease risk, cycling offers a wealth of advantages.
From the fresh air in your face to getting to explore new routes, there’s a lot to love about cycling. It also comes with a list of health benefits that make getting out for a ride on your bike a great workout.
Any kind of activity offers a boost for your body and brain, but unlike other types of aerobic exercise (like jogging or walking), you can make cycling a high-intensity workout without putting as much pressure on the joints.
Many of the studies that have looked at how cycling affects health find that cycling just a few days a week is enough to lead to the following health benefits.
Cycling Boosts Aerobic Fitness (Without Stressing Your Joints)
Cardiovascular or aerobic activity is an important part of physical fitness. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (PDF) calls for everyone over 18 to get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity cardio each week (or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity cardio), noting that more is linked to more long-term health benefits. Cycling at either intensity is one way to incorporate this type of movement.
And if you’re someone who has hip, knee, or ankle joint issues, or you just want to prevent them for the future, cycling provides an excellent choice, according to Bianca Beldini, DPT, a physical therapist and USA-certified triathlon coach based in South Nyack, New York. “Cycling is considered to be low impact, which means it puts less stress on the lower extremity joints,” she says. “With a proper bike setup, cycling can challenge a person’s overall system without excessive load or adverse forces through the joints.”
Cycling Builds Core Strength
When it comes to cycling, you might think cardio, not strength. But Beldini says outdoor riding, in particular, can significantly challenge the abdominal muscles and build core stability because you need to balance on the bike. That’s particularly true over rougher terrain, where you’ll have to shift direction often to avoid obstacles.
“Balancing the body’s center of mass over moving wheels requires engaging numerous muscles in your lower back, abdominals, and hips,” she says. “Even slight shifts as you ride can fire up those muscles.”
And a stronger core can have a profound ripple effect on your health, adds Neel Anand, MD, director of spine trauma at Cedars-Sinai Spine Center in Los Angeles. A stronger core not only lowers risk of back pain, he says, but also helps prevent tension headaches and energy slumps because you’re in better alignment throughout the day. “With more core strength and stability, you have more efficiency in your movements, not matter what activity you’re doing,” he says.
Cycling May Improve Bone Health
Higher-impact activities, like jumping and running, create stress on the body that can improve bone density, says Dr. Anand, which is an important part of healthy aging. But just because you prefer cycling doesn’t mean you’re missing out — especially if you go off-road.
A previous study, for instance, found that mountain biking can create enough ground impact to be beneficial for bone strength. Also, it requires upper-body muscle engagement to maintain stability, and the combination of those factors could improve bone structure overall, the researchers note in the study.
A Bike Ride May Help You Sleep
If you struggle with sleep quality, adding a ride in the early evening may help, according to a research review published in December 2021 in Sleep Medicine Reviews.
Although the analysis looked at several types of aerobic exercise, cycling seemed to be the most beneficial, according to Melodee Mograss, PhD, a cognitive neuropsychologist in the department of health, kinesiology, and applied physiology at Concordia University in Montreal. She adds that ending a ride about two hours before bed seems to be the sweet spot.
“We’re not sure why cycling is so dominant for this. But we do know that exercise like cycling raises the core body temperature quickly as you’re doing it, causing the body to balance the surge in heat with cool-down mechanisms,” she says. “That tends to create more efficient temperature regulation, which carries into bedtime, and may help you fall asleep faster and stay asleep better as a result.”
Cycling Is Good for Cardiovascular Health
Cycling, like other types of aerobic exercise, challenges the heart, lungs, and muscular system in a beneficial way, according to Beldini. That boosts cardiovascular function, including overall circulation and blood pressure, and greater utilization of oxygen.
Previous research found that people who do regular cycling workouts had lower risk of cardiovascular disease than noncyclists.
This applies to indoor cycling as well. An research review published in August 2019 in the journal Medicina suggested that pairing indoor cycling with a healthy diet can improve aerobic capacity, blood pressure, lipid profile, and body composition.
Cycling Offers a Mental Boost
Most exercise is good for mood and mental health; cycling is no exception.
A study published in February 2019 in PLoS One looked at 100 adults ages 50 to 83; about one-third were not cyclists, another third (approximately) cycled at least three times per week, and the final third used e-bikes, which are fitted with a motor to provide pedaling assistance. Over the 8 weeks of the study, participants were asked to maintain these cycling (or non-cycling) routines. Those who cycled at least three times per week — either on traditional bikes or e-bikes — showed significant improvements in mental health, cognitive function, and overall perception of health and well-being compared to the noncyclists.
Different people might prefer one type of cycling over another, says Beldini. “For example, mountain biking is so technical and requires such focus to navigate challenging terrain that you may find it helps with your concentration in general. With road cycling, the higher speeds and hill work can be exhilarating, which leads to a greater sense of enjoyment.”
She recommends spending some time trying different types of riding, and on different terrain, to figure out what you like best.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking:
- Mcveigh, J, Meiring, R, Cimato A, et al. Radial Bone Size and Strength Indices in Male Road Cyclists, Mountain Bikers and Controls. European Journal of Sport Science. July 2014.
- Frimpong, E, Mograss M, Zvionow T, Dang-Vu T. The Effects of Evening High-Intensity Exercise on Sleep in Healthy Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sleep Medicine Reviews. December 2021.
- Blond K, Jensen M, Rasmussen M, et al. Prospective Study of Bicycling and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Danish Men and Women. Circulation. November 2016.
- Chavarrias M, Carlos-Vivas J, Collado-Mateo D, Perez-Gomez J. Health Benefits of Indoor Cycling: A Systematic Review. Medicina. August 2019.
- Leyland L, Spencer B, Beale N, et al. The Effect of Cycling on Cognitive Function and Well-Being in Older Adults. PLoS One. February 2019.
- Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, 2nd Edition [PDF]. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2018.
The watching, interacting, and participation of any kind with anything on this page does not constitute or initiate a doctor-patient relationship with Dr. Farrah™. None of the statements here have been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The products of Dr. Farrah™ are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information being provided should only be considered for education and entertainment purposes only. If you feel that anything you see or hear may be of value to you on this page or on any other medium of any kind associated with, showing, or quoting anything relating to Dr. Farrah™ in any way at any time, you are encouraged to and agree to consult with a licensed healthcare professional in your area to discuss it. If you feel that you’re having a healthcare emergency, seek medical attention immediately. The views expressed here are simply either the views and opinions of Dr. Farrah™ or others appearing and are protected under the first amendment.
Dr. Farrah™ is a highly experienced Licensed Medical Doctor certified in evidence-based clinical nutrition, not some enthusiast, formulator, or medium promoting the wild and unrestrained use of nutrition products for health issues without clinical experience and scientific evidence of therapeutic benefit. Dr. Farrah™ has personally and keenly studied everything she recommends, and more importantly, she’s closely observed the reactions and results in a clinical setting countless times over the course of her career involving the treatment of over 150,000 patients.
Dr. Farrah™ promotes evidence-based natural approaches to health, which means integrating her individual scientific and clinical expertise with the best available external clinical evidence from systematic research. By individual clinical expertise, I refer to the proficiency and judgment that individual clinicians acquire through clinical experience and clinical practice.
Dr. Farrah™ does not make any representation or warranties with respect to the accuracy, applicability, fitness, or completeness of any multimedia content provided. Dr. Farrah™ does not warrant the performance, effectiveness, or applicability of any sites listed, linked, or referenced to, in, or by any multimedia content.
To be clear, the multimedia content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or seen in any website, video, image, or media of any kind. Dr. Farrah™ hereby disclaims any and all liability to any party for any direct, indirect, implied, punitive, special, incidental, or other consequential damages arising directly or indirectly from any use of the content, which is provided as is, and without warranties.