Keeping physically fit is not purely about keeping at a weight you're happy with or looking good in the mirror; sure these may well be drivers for keeping active but leading an active and healthy lifestyle can result in so much more.
Keeping physically fit can help prevent many of the major illnesses we suffer today, not to mention making us feel good and giving us the opportunity to do the things we want to do and lead the lifestyle we wish to lead. We make new friends through exercise and experience new things.
Cycling is one of many ways we can get active. Many of the benefits of physical activity I will describe below are achieved through cycling. Riding with others and being a part of a club also adds to the mental and social dimensions of our well-being. We make new friends, share new experiences together and are more likely to achieve our goals when we train together in groups than when we train alone.
Many of the health benefits we get from regular exercise and training are described below:
A healthy Heart
BUPA research has shown that regular exercise can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. Every year in the UK, around 53,000 people die from a stroke and 94,000 from coronary heart disease. Inactive people have almost double the risk of dying from heart disease compared with people who are active. So if you don't do any exercise at all, even doing a little more physical activity like walking each day or riding your bike to and from work can help reduce your risk of these conditions.
Regular exercise also helps to reduce your blood pressure if it is high (hypertension) and prevent it from becoming high in the first place if it is not. Again looking at the BUPA research one in three adults in the UK has high blood pressure which significantly increases your chances of heart disease or having a stroke.
You can also help to balance out your cholesterol levels through regular exercise and training. There are two types of cholesterol; low density lipoprotein (LDL) and high density lipoprotein (HDL). LDL is often referred to as the ‘bad’ cholesterol and HDL the ‘good’. Having high levels of LDL and low level of HDL again increase your risks of developing heart disease. Many studies have found that regular exercise has been linked to higher HDL levels than in non exercisers.
Bone and Joint Health
Did you know that you are more likely to have lower back pain if you do not exercise?
8 out 10 people have reported to have suffered some lower back pain in their life times but people who exercise are less likely to be affected. If however you do suffer with lower back pain, following a training plan designed by a competent and qualified health fitness professional can help to reduce it.
As we age the chances of experiencing pain from osteoarthritis and osteoporosis increase. However (yes you guessed it) regular training, especially non-impact exercise like cycling or swimming are often prescribed by doctors to help reduce and manage pain experienced by these conditions. Research has also indicated that regular cycling has been shown to prevent and slow the progression of Osteoarthritis.
Osteoporosis is again more common as we age, particularly amongst women. Physical activity can help to increase bone density in children, maintain strong bones in adolescents and slows down bone degeneration later on in life. This is achieved through a training regime incorporating cardiovascular exercise (exercise which raises our heart rate and trains the heart and lungs), especially running and jumping activities which help to put weight on your bones and increase bone density, or with resistance training (lifting weights).
If you already have Osteoporosis it is recommended to choose low-impact weight-bearing exercises like walking and combine this with swimming, cycling and a resistance program designed by a competent and fully qualified health fitness professional.
You are less likely to develop certain types of cancers if you train regularly. Exercise has been found to protect against colon cancer and against breast cancer in women who have been through the menopause. Some more recent studies have also suggested that exercise may also help to prevent lung and endometrial cancers (malignant tumours in the lining of the uterus).
Doing physical activity can help to manage and prevent Diabetes. This disease has increased at an alarming rate over the last decade. There are now over 2 million of us in the UK with Diabetes.
The risk of contracting type 2 diabetes are lowered through regular training especially if you are at a high risk of developing type 2 diabetes, for example if you are over weight, have high blood pressure or have a family history of those with the condition.
It is also good for you if you are diabetic as exercise can help to control your blood sugar levels.
Our mental health and wellbeing
Exercise can help prevent and treat mental illness. Regular exercise has been found to be as effective a treatment for depression as talking with the psychiatrist or taking medication (and with fewer side effects). If you suffer with phobias, panic attacks or work in a stressful environment you too can benefit from regular exercise.
Physical activity burns calories and so helps to create a health energy balance.
You are statistically more likely to be obese if you are inactive; the more you do the more you lose. If exercise is combined with a healthy diet you lose weight faster!
Effective weight management is not possible without physical exercise and a balanced diet. Take either of these away and maintaining a healthy weight becomes a hell of a lot harder. This is why there are so many fad diets still out there.
Our children and exercise
One in three children in the UK are now classed as being overweight or obese by the time they reach their eleventh birthday. I think you would agree it is therefore more important than ever to get our children active. By keeping fit and active ourselves we can be ambassadors for a healthy lifestyle for our children and encourage them to get into sport. Physical activity helps them to grow and develop, helps maintain a healthy weight and gives them the opportunity to interact with other people and their friends.
Some of the benefits of training and exercise I have described can also apply to our children. Activities which put stress on their bones like skipping and jumping can help protect against osteoporosis later on in their lives and help to develop strong healthy bones. Exercise can help increase their self-esteem, reduce stress, anxiety and depression in their adolescent years.
After reading all these benefits you are probably thinking ‘I would have to be crazy not to want to get active’ and you're right! However just a note of caution before you throw yourselves head strong into your new regime and dust off the bike. If you have any concerns over your health status or have existing conditions or injuries please seek advice from your doctor first and discuss any injury requirements with your physiotherapist and fitness trainer.
Most importantly - have fun! If you enjoy what it is you are doing, you're more likely to continue to do it so that rather than adding it to the bottom of an already long list of work and family obligations, it becomes part of your lifestyle and one you will continue for the rest of your life.
Yours in fitness