No matter who you are, heart disease is a very real risk – it’s the biggest killer in the world. In the UK, it will kill 1 in 10 women and 1 in 7 men, and someone will die from it every eight minutes. Not only that, but it costs the NHS £15 billion a year!
However, don’t panic, if you’re a regular rider, your heart is likely a lot healthier than most. In fact, researchers from the University of Glasgow found that cycling to work can cut a rider’s risk of developing heart disease in half.
Not convinced that partaking in your favourite past time could be so powerful? We’ve delved in deeper to find out how exactly cycling keeps your heart happy.
Discover more: What Are The Health Benefits Of Cycling? [Interactive]
Blood under pressure
It’s somewhat common knowledge that high blood pressure and heart disease go hand-in-hand. If you’re prone to high blood pressure, the good news is that aerobic activity such as cycling is an effective way to keep your blood pressure under control.
However, how are blood pressure and cycling related? Well, regular physical activity such as cycling makes your heart stronger. A stronger heart can pump blood around your body with less effort, and if your heart can work less to pump, the force on your arteries decreases. Your blood pressure is therefore lowered.
So great is the effect of regular exercise that, in some cases, it can reduce blood pressure as much as some blood pressure medicines. Of course, if you want to continue seeing these benefits, you’ll have to keep up cycling regularly which won’t be a chore considering how enjoyable it is anyway!
Weight under control
It’s no secret that being overweight puts much stress on the heart – hence why the NHS is always trying to get us to eat less and move more. This is because the simple equation, when it comes to weight loss, is ‘calories out must exceed calories in’.
As we all know, cycling burns calories - between 400 and 1000 an hour depending on your weight and how intense your session is. So, assuming you’re cycling regularly and combining it with a balanced diet, the weight should not only come off but also stay off.
If you’re already at your optimal weight, the equation changes to ‘calories out must equal calories in’, in which case after that glorious morning cycle you can reward yourself with a smug second breakfast! All this means that by keeping you in good shape, cycling keeps stress on your heart to a minimum.
Cycling builds muscle
A combination of aerobic workouts and strength/resistance training is generally considered to be the best for heart health. While it’s widely acknowledged that cycling is a great form of aerobic exercise, many forget it’s amazing ability to build muscle.
As you’re powering up that particularly tough climb, your muscles are working in overtime to ensure you can keep those pedals turning. It’s this resistance element of cycling that builds muscle – especially in your legs.
This contributes towards a healthy heart because the more exercised your muscles are, the better they’re able to draw oxygen from the circulating blood. This reduces the need for the heart to work as hard, therefore reducing the stress that’s put on it.
You’ve had a stressful day at the office, you go out for a cycle, and suddenly the world seems a whole lot better. This is because exercise is a great tool for keeping stress down. The unfortunate fact is that all of us are susceptible to it with the hustle and bustle day to day life.
Read More: Cycling and Sleep: What’s the Link?
Stress has been linked to heart disease, but not in the way you might think. Although stress is not a direct risk factor for heart disease, it may contribute to your risk level. It all depends on your coping mechanisms. A lot of us cope with stress by engaging in risky behaviours such as drinking alcohol in excess, smoking and comfort eating. It’s these risk factors that can increase your chances of developing heart disease.
Regular cycling reduces stress and its effects for some reasons. Firstly, it pumps up your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters, which are also released when you engage in the damaging habits listed above. If you get your feel-good fix from cycling instead of drinking, smoking, or eating your heart will be very happy indeed! Secondly, because there’s so much to focus on during a ride, you’ll often find that you’ve forgotten the day’s irritations and you’re purely concentration on your body’s movements.
Read More: Does cycling strengthen your immune system?
Cyclists are more self-aware
As cyclists always want to be performing at their best, it’s in their best interest to be in tune with their bodies and make healthy choices. The benefit to this is that they are more likely to recognise when something isn’t quite right with their heart (or any part of the body) before it becomes more serious.
Cyclists usually invest in a heart rate monitor to keep track of their heart intensity zones, which can be a good way to indicate if your heart isn’t acting normally. For example, if your monitor picks up that your heart rate is pushing 200 when it felt like you were going along at 125bpm, it’s a good pointer to give your GP a visit just to double check everything is ok.
Similarly, as a cyclist, no matter what level you’re at, you’ll be self-aware of your breathing pattern. If you’re suddenly finding yourself working hard to catch your breath where you usually wouldn’t, go and get yourself checked out – better safe than sorry after all!
Before hitting the road and enjoying cycling's many health benefits, be sure to check out Cycleplan's cycling insurance.