From the moment we first mounted a bicycle, we knew how much balance cycling was going to require – which is why all started with stabilisers! There’s no doubt that balance is needed to cycle, but the other way around may also be true: cycling is needed for balance. Don’t believe us? Read on and see if you can be convinced…
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Why balance is important
Balance allows you to do everyday activities you might take for granted, like walking unassisted, talking to a friend while walking, stepping over obstacles and climbing up stairs.
It’s clear the crucial role balance plays in our day-to-day lives, but well-documented evidence has continuously shown the deterioration of it as we age. The irony being that, if anything, as we get older, we rely on our balance even more. Falls are the leading cause of hospitalisation for people aged 65 and above, and one out of three of this age group will suffer from a fall every year.
Many risk factors have been identified with increasing the likelihood of a fall; poor balance is a front-runner. The good news is there are plenty of steps we can take to both improve our balance and prevent it from deteriorating in the first place.
Read More: How Cycling Boosts Your Heart Health
Why cycling is a great balance booster
Until recently, it hadn’t been known for sure if cycling improves our balance, although it has long been associated with increased leg strength and muscle endurance – two things that are linked to better balance. However, a recent study sought to determine whether or not cycling effects balance and, if it does, in what way.
The study found that older adults who had cycled recently and those who cycled for over an hour a week performed better than non-riders on measures of static and dynamic balance. Overall, the study concluded that cycling could be implemented as an effective fall prevention strategy for older adults who can cycle.
What’s more, it just so happens that cycling is an ideal sport for our bodies as we age. Cycling involves smooth, regular movement: it doesn’t put a large amount of stress and strain on your body like a high impact activity, such as running does. Evidence has suggested that many older adults prefer to exercise alone rather than in a group setting. Cycling also ticks this box, but if you’re more of a social butterfly, there’s scope to cycle with others too.
Read More: Top 9 Mental Health Benefits of Cycling
What’s the reason for the link?
While the evidence certainly points towards cycling keeping our balance in order, the reason for this is somewhat vaguer. The conclusion that’s easiest to jump to is that cycling requires a certain amount of balance to keep us upright on two wheels. Therefore, while we cycle we practise balance and, as we know, practice makes perfect!
While to a degree this may be true, it’s more likely to have something to do with the muscles that cycling strengthens. Our balance is mostly controlled by a system in our inner ear called the vestibular system: a complex series of tubes and chambers. These chambers are filled with fluid which sloshes around as you move, telling your nerve endings the position and movement of the head.
Despite this system being the main controller of our balance, it still needs our muscles to implement the messages that have been sent to the brain. For example, if we’re about to fall we need our muscles to correct this and steady us again. As you can imagine, our leg muscles will play a role in executing this, but our abs also kick into gear. They act as our body’s inner stabiliser, and so any exercise that seeks to strengthen these muscles help your balance in some way.
This is where cycling comes in. To keep us stable on the bike, our abdominal muscles are working overtime to provide us with a stable platform for riding. The constant contraction of our abs as we ride improves their strength and, in turn, our overall balance.
So, keep pedalling and, who knows, your balance could be so good you’re walking across a tightrope without even a wobble! If you are thinking of taking up cycling for a health boost, be sure to check out cycling insurance.