With the annual multi-stage Tour de France in full swing, many of us are tempted to return to the garage and pull out our tragically neglected bikes. The good thing about cycling is that it offers a great method of getting low-impact exercise outdoors, and you don’t have to replicate the 2,000-mile race to get a bit of your own Tour de France on .
From elite cyclists to the seriously ill, cycling offers something for everyone. So if you’re wondering where you’re up to the challenge of moving a little more this summer, we’ve got you covered.
Robert Duran is a cancer survivor who bikes to the University of California Medical Center to undergo treatment for his stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis. In all, he totals somewhere in the region of 50 to 100 miles of cycling every week. If he can make the effort to stay active, chances are you will too, because getting on your bike has many health benefits.
“Cycling is one of the things I love and enjoy doing the most because it puts me in my happy space,” says Duran. “When I ride my bike, nothing else matters, not even the cancer and that’s why I continue to ride my bike as much as I can…even on the days I’m having chemotherapy. And, when I’m not cycling, I add high-intensity training to exercise different muscle groups. Exercise gives me strength to fight cancer and lead a normal life.
Of course, there is no substitute for professional medical treatment, medication and chemotherapy, but people with different health conditions can benefit from cycling.
David S. Levine, MD is a foot and ankle specialist in New York. He received the “Excellence in Orthopedics” awards from his peers, and he is also a proponent of the value of cycling.
Cycling is great for physical and mental health
“Cycling is a low-impact form of cardio exercise,” says Dr. Levine. “So the muscles, including the heart, are trained to work efficiently and grow modestly. The weight-bearing joints are loaded but not excessively, thus avoiding an overload which can lead to injuries and arthritis over time. The lungs are trained to efficiently take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. Cycling can be practiced in groups; strengthen friendships and promote healthy competition and encouragement to improve.
The social buzz of cycling in a community is something Duran wholeheartedly agrees with. He met a number of other cyclists through his work with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and developed great friendships over the years. “Cycling with friends is very important for my mental health,” he says. “It’s a way of holding myself accountable for the consistency of my riding and having a meaningful impact not only for myself, but also for my friends. If I say I’m going to ride on a certain date and time, then I Better introduce myself. But I also see it as a challenge to compete with my friends and the other cyclists along the route.
Vigorous exercise activates your muscles, stimulates brain activity and triggers the release of endorphins, says Dr. Levine. These conditions often create feelings of awareness, focus, and euphoria that are sometimes referred to as natural or runner’s euphoria.
Cycling is great for building resilience
“Regular exercise, like cycling, has a positive impact on the immune system,” says Levin.
Some of the reasons, according to Levine, include:
- Heart rate and increased respiratory rate increase blood flow and oxygen supply to body tissues.
- Exercise activates a series of hormones that positively regulate the endocrine/immune system.
- Often, people who exercise regularly will develop a healthy body mass index (BMI) as well as a nutritious diet and lifestyle.
For those with serious health issues like Duran, it’s so important to boost the immune system, through sensible exercise that stays within its limits. If you’re worried about pushing yourself too hard, you can stay on track by allowing enough recovery time. “I think it’s important to rest and recover properly, and I think mental rest is also important,” Duran says. “Because I cycle frequently, my mental state is relaxed and happy. Therefore, many of the insignificant things in life, as well as stressful situations, don’t bother me as much.
Cycling is a great way to rehabilitate an injury
“Depending on the nature of an injury, exercise like cycling can be particularly helpful,” says Levine. “As an orthopedic foot and ankle surgeon, I often surgically repair broken ankles. Although these patients are unable to walk early in their recovery, the stationary bike promotes muscle function and prevents atrophy. It also maintains movement of an injured or repaired ankle joint and is useful for the preservation and nutrition of cartilage. Of course, one should consult his doctor before beginning a vigorous exercise program. That said, responsible, progressive, low-impact exercise is rarely contraindicated. In terms of supplementation, Dr. Levine says a healthy diet that includes vitamin D and calcium, along with adequate sleep, is the best “add-on” to an indoor or outdoor cycling exercise program. .
Cycling provides a great sense of accomplishment
“Often there are times when I don’t feel like gearing up to go for a ride in bad weather,” says Duran. “But I ride anyway and during the ride the endorphins kick in and I feel full of energy. Then the dopamine rush comes on and I feel a great sense of accomplishment and well-being after the ride. These positive effects of cycling carry me through my chemo treatment and are why I have the energy to lead a normal life.
So start pedaling and enjoy the ride.