Calorie burning and muscle building are the obvious ways cycling helps you drop unwanted pounds. But that’s just the beginning. Here are a few stealth and sometimes surprising ways that bicycling can help you shed body fat fast. —Selene Yeager
Bicycling Makes You Happy
A recent study from Bowling Green State University reported that as little as 10 minutes of cycling improved the mood among 21 men and women, compared to a similar group who did nothing during that time.
Feeling happier can help you beat fat by reducing the likelihood that you’ll reach for a mood boost in a pint of ice cream or plow your way through a pizza to burn off the blues after a bad day at work. Cornell University researchers have found that people who are sad tend to not only eat more food but also eat more high-carbohydrate, high-calorie comfort food than those who feel happy.
Bicycling Gives You More Energy to Burn
Energy begets energy. The more you move, the more you’ll want to move. And it’s not just me talking. It’s thousands of people and some hard science.
When University of Georgia researchers analyzed data from 70 studies on exercise and fatigue that involved more than 6,800 men and women, they found that 90 percent of the studies reported the same result: Exercise increases energy and reduces fatigue. Sedentary people who participated in an exercise program experienced less fatigue than their still-sedentary counterparts, and the average energy boost was actually greater than improvements reported from using stimulant medications.
Bicycling Leads to Better Sleep
Because it gives you so much energy during the day, bicycling will help you sleep like a baby during the night, which is a very good thing when you consider the sorry state of most of our nights of shut-eye.
Sleep statistics show that the average night’s sleep has dropped from 9 hours to 7 during the past 20 years, with many of us getting a whole lot less. That’s bad news for your weight-loss efforts, say scientists, because when you don’t give your body the sleep it craves, it starts hunting for relief in the form of food.
Bicycling Blunts Your Appetite
Many people who are trying to cut calories and lose weight worry that exercising will make them eat more. For some people, that’s true, particularly if they turn to food as a reward for working out. But in terms of real appetite, the evidence indicates that the opposite is true.
Studies of overweight men and women who start exercising show that vigorous exercise actually suppresses appetite for a few hours afterward. Likewise, Tufts University researchers reported in a review article that people generally enjoy a “spontaneous reduction in hunger” when they start exercising, which they noted also consistently led to weight loss.
Bicycling Relieves Stress
When you’re under stress, whether at home or work, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode, physically preparing you to either knock someone’s lights out or run like heck. Your heart beats faster and harder. Your cells pump fatty acids into your bloodstream to fuel your muscles. And your adrenal glands amp their production of stress hormones like cortisol to put your whole body on high alert and ready for action. Chances are, however, you are more likely to just sit stewing in this toxic pool of high stress.
This resignation in the face of stress creates its own metabolic cascade of events that leads to increased fat production, especially in the belly, where it does the most damage, as well as suppressed immunity. It also sends many men and women to the fridge, vending machine, or convenience store for a quick feel-better food fix.
By exercising, you give your body a healthy outlet for pent-up stress. Aerobic exercise like pedaling a bike uses up excess adrenaline and slows the production of cortisol. It also stimulates endorphins and other good-mood chemicals that lower your anxiety and improve your sense of well-being.
Bicycling is Fun
When people want to know the “best” exercise for weight loss, experts universally agree that it’s the one you enjoy. And bicycling is highly enjoyable. But don’t just take our word for it. Take Mark Blaubach’s. Mark, of Kerrville, Texas, lost 117 pounds (he started at 364) after buying a mountain bike when his doctor ordered him to lose weight or end up in the morgue.
“Burning calories has to be fun! If it feels too much like work, you’ll eventually find an excuse not to do it. I tried everything. And everything felt like drudgery . . . until I bought a bike. It sounds cliché, but I felt like a kid again. It was still hard exercise. At first I had to push my bike up the smallest of hills. But it didn’t feel like work. It’s the love of bicycling that has enabled me to keep the weight off for over 10 years,” says Mark, now 41, whose wife, Faye, got the biking bug shortly thereafter and found herself 50 pounds lighter. “That was 10 years ago, and we’ve been happily biking away ever since,” Mark says with a smile.
Bicycling Makes You Healthier
A healthy body simply functions better, allowing you to live more fully and, of course, burn more calories in the process. For John Turney, 63, of Concord, California, riding was practically doctor’s orders. “In August 2008, I went to my cardiologist for a routine visit, and my blood pressure was measured as high. I had been really glued to my desk for the past couple of years, and my back was starting to hurt. And at 6’0″, I weighed 218 pounds. The doctor prescribed weight loss for everything.”
“The doctor told me not to jog. I had never been athletic, so we discussed my options. Swimming (I’m terrible), treadmills (how boring), and cycling. He and I convinced my wife that cycling was the way to go. On the way home we stopped by REI to buy her a water bottle, and I bought a hybrid bike.”
Just like that, John fell in love with riding. In 6 months, he put 1,500 miles on the hybrid and kept losing weight and getting fitter and faster. He also started weight-training 2 days a week. “The nice thing about riding and weight training is I can eat more (but not too much) again and the weight loss is all fat and not muscle.” Inspired by his progress and ready to take his riding to another level, John just bought a Fuji road bike. Today, he’s down to a healthy, pain-free 171 pounds, which makes him and his doctor happy.
The Muddbunnies encourage and welcome female riders of all experience and skill levels to join them in getting down and dirty. Come on, ride like a girl!