February 26, 2017

Biking: What It Can Do for Your Health

What Biking Does for Your Health

We all know that exercise is one of the foundations of excellent health. Some of us even enjoy it! But what are the benefits of specific forms of exercises, such as biking? To the extent that it gets you up off the couch, biking is a no-brainer from the get-go. But there’s even more to biking than moving and, well, not sitting and being inactive.

Biking is obviously better for the environment than driving combustible-engine vehicles. Biking does not pollute, builds fitness, and alleviates traffic by taking one more car off the road. No wonder, then, that municipal planners often take biking infrastructure into account when developing zoning regulations and planning parks, trails, and other forms of bike-friendly infrastructure. Of course, biking, like any form of aerobic exercise, is linked to better health outcomes.

 

Biking Enhances Communities, Too

Research shows that communities with adequate opportunities for biking and other human-powered forms of transportation, such as walking, are highly attractive to homeowners, business owners, and prospective investors alike. Communities with these amenities tend to be healthier and suffer from less crime than urban areas where little attention has been paid to opportunities to get outdoors and enjoy fresh air, sunshine, and nature.

 

Biking encompasses both road bikes and mountain bikes. Of course, road bikes, with their narrow tires, are optimized for speed on the open road. Mountain bikes feature tougher, often heavier, frames and wide terrain-gripping tires. They’re capable of navigating all sorts of comparatively wild, unpredictable terrain. Many communities have recognized the value of adding purpose-built mountain biking trails that allow users to engage in the thrill of their sport in sustainable, maintained settings. Others focus more on integrating biking into existing infrastructure, or incorporating new bike lanes into new construction projects.

 

Investments in Biking Infrastructure are Investments in Community

While these amenities cost money, they’re viewed as sound investments that add value to communities. For one thing, people are more likely to relocate to communities with adequate parks and trail systems. And that correlates with a more active community. According to research published recently in Environment and Behavior, “Zoning elements most associated with adult physical activity included requirements for mixed use, active and passive recreation, bike parking/street furniture, and bike-pedestrian trails/paths.”

 

The benefits of biking would appear to be obvious. But let’s look at the evidence. According to a recent study published in PLoS One, “active commuting” (meaning walking or biking to and from work) is strongly associated with lower body mass index. In other words, people who regularly walk or bike tend to weigh less. Obesity is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease, as is being sedentary, so it makes sense that biking is linked to lower body weight, and presumably, that it helps lower risks of cardiovascular disease and/or type 2 diabetes. Like other forms of aerobic exercise, biking for pleasure or daily transportation is also associated with lower levels of inflammation.

 

The PLoS paper also delved into related factors associated with life in bike-friendly versus car-friendly communities. Factors such as aggression and crime rates (including murder rates) tended to be lower among communities where there are greater opportunities to bike or walk. Of course, to optimize the benefits of regular biking, it’s important to bike safely. To that end, remember that it is never advisable to bike—on-road, or off—without a bike helmet. It’s also important to know, and follow, all the rules of the road when biking in traffic.

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References

Chriqui JF, Nicholson LM, Thrun E, Leider J, Slater SJ. More Active Living–oriented County and Municipal Zoning is Associated with Increased Adult Leisure Time Physical Activity—United States, 2011. Environment and behavior. 2016;48(1):111-130. doi:10.1177/0013916515611175.

Mertens L, Van Dyck D, Ghekiere A, et al. Which environmental factors most strongly influence a street’s appeal for bicycle transport among adults? A conjoint study using manipulated photographs. International Journal of Health Geographics. 2016;15(1):31. doi:10.1186/s12942-016-0058-4.

Wojan TR, Hamrick KS. Can Walking or Biking to Work Really Make a Difference? Compact Development, Observed Commuter Choice and Body Mass Index. Zhang H, ed. PLoS ONE. 2015;10(7):e0130903. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0130903.

Wu SH, Shu XO, Chow W-H, et al. Nonexercise Physical Activity and Inflammatory and Oxidative Stress Markers in Women. Journal of Women’s Health. 2014;23(2):159-167. doi:10.1089/jwh.2013.4456.