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Can Cycling Really Help You Live Longer?

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Cycling, or biking, is one of the most universally popular recreational activities.

It also serves as many people’s primary mode of transportation.

Avid cyclists rave about the virtues of biking, but is it really all it’s cracked up to be?

Whether you’re a seasoned cyclist or a novice looking to add more physical activity to your life, read on for an overview of the benefits, and potential detriments, of biking.

Some of them, like the effects of cycling on your life insurance rates, might surprise you. It’s just one of several sports that help your heart, and your wallet.

The People Who Bike

does cycling extend your lifeBiking is popular in urban and rural areas alike. Both country roads and city streets are filled with riders.

If you feel like the number of bikers you share the road with is increasing, you’re right.

Statista reports that between 2014 and 2017, the number of US bikers rose from 43 to 47.54 million.

Of those 47.54 million cyclists, 39.04 million report riding on paved roads, while another 8.69 million ride on non-paved roads like mountains.

While the number of children and teen cyclists is decreasing, the number of young adults riding bikes has remained steady.

All those cyclists need rides; Statista puts the annual retail market for bikes, parts, and accessories at about $6 billion.

With growing environmental concerns and transportation costs, cycling should continue to grow as more people realize its benefits.

Benefits of Biking

So, what all does cycling have to offer participants? There’s no shortage of benefits to biking, ranging from your physical health to your financial well being.

Let’s take a look at a few of the activity’s biggest advantages.

Positive Environmental Impact

If you’re looking to save the world, cycling may be a step in the right direction.

Pav Bryan, performance director at SPOKES, encourages readers to:

“Consider your commute. If you did the same commute by bicycle, you would be emitting less than 10% of gas emissions of a smaller vehicle, less than about 7.5% of an SUV and less than 5% of a pickup. “

Further, he explains, “While mass transit systems are considerably more efficient than vehicles such as cars, a bicycle will only place second to walking, and not by much!”

A 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations’ climate committee, cites the success of bike-sharing initiatives in London which have contributed to a drop of more than 20% in CO2 emissions in the city.

Biking short distances, as opposed to driving, could benefit your health and the environment.

You could also inhale less carbon monoxide and pollutants than many drivers by riding in a designated bike lane.

Neurological Stamina

Speaking of health, biking has remarkable benefits for your mind, body, and soul.

A 2016 study in Medicine and Science and Sports Exercise looked at the effects of cycling and other physical activities on children’s cognitive function.

The study found that cycling increased the students’ performance on spelling and reading tasks and suggested ADD and related issues could be improved with moderate exercise.

Charles Hillman, one of the lead researchers on the case above, has also studied the impact of exercise on Alzheimer’s. His research demonstrates how exercise could delay dementia in older participants.

Similar research from Dr. Xuexian Fang suggests moderate to vigorous exercise can reduce the risk of Parkinson’s Disease in men.

Stronger Mental Health

Exercise lifts your spirits and decreases stress levels, releasing happy hormones in your body.

Research suggests each workout could drastically improve your mental health.

A study in The Lancet Psychiatry analyzed the self-reported good days and bad days of 1.2 million adult participants.

They found the following:

Individuals who exercised had 1·49 (43·2%) fewer days of poor mental health in the past month than individuals who did not exercise.”

But there’s more. The second-largest group of exercising individuals who had more good days than bad were cyclists, falling only slightly behind team sports players.

Improved Joint and Muscle Strength

The older and stiffer you get, the more difficult it can be to hit the ground running.

Cycling is the perfect solution, allowing you to put your weight on your pelvis rather than your knees and ankles while still getting a vigorous workout.

Biking also builds muscle, strengthening your glutes, quads, hamstrings, flexors, and calf muscles as you pedal.

As a result, you’re also bolstering bone density. It can even improve your posture, balance, and coordination skills.

While an activity like running can be damaging to your joints, cycling can actually improve your joint health.

According to a study in the Journal of Rheumatology, cycling strengthens joint function and decreases pain in osteoarthritis patients.

Revitalized Immune Health

Recent research suggests cycling can even go as far as altering your immune system to slow down the aging process.

Typically, when you age, your thymus shrinks and the number of T-cells (immune cells) it produces decrease.

The Aging Cell study found that cyclists between the ages of 55 to 79 had more T-cells than inactive individuals of the same age.

Even more remarkable, the aging cyclists’ bodies produced about the same amount of T-cells as young adults.

In other words, cycling has anti-aging benefits which boost your body’s immune system well into old age.

Better Cardiovascular Health

Science suggests you can pedal your way to a healthier heart.

A Medicine & Science in Sports Exercise study found individuals who exercise regularly are 31% less likely to suffer from hypertension.

The Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine, IEEM, has even more good news.

If you start exercising 4-5 times a week by age 65, you could potentially improve your heart’s elasticity and performance.

Dr. Benjamin Levine, the senior author of IEEM’s study and a UT Southwestern professor of Internal Medicine states,

This ‘dose’ of exercise has become my prescription for life… People should be able to do this as part of their personal hygiene – just like brushing your teeth and taking a shower.”

Building a bike ride into your daily routine could be the key to a life unburdened by heart disease.

Weight Loss

One of the most obvious health-related benefits of cycling is weight loss.

Cycling classes are some of the most popular offerings at gyms nationwide, attracting individuals who want to lose and maintain their weight.

Biking is one of the best physical activities for participants looking to lose weight. You can easily incorporate high-intensity interval training.

One of the best parts about this aerobic exercise is that it allows you to burn calories and tone your muscles without damaging your joints.

Consequently, some research suggests cycling can lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes, which is closely linked to weight and activity levels.

Reducing Cancer Risk and Mortality

Unfortunately, no level of physical activity can guarantee you won’t develop cancer.

However, studies show that cycling and other forms of exercise can lessen the risk.

A 2017 BMJ study observed over 260,000 participants, some of whom cycled and walked to work, others of whom took public transportation or drove.

The study found that cyclists in particular were at a lower risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality.

Next time you set out for a walk, consider wheeling out your bike instead. It could be a life-changing decision.

And if you’re looking for time in your busy schedule to bike, you may want to consider incorporating the practice into your daily commute.

Cycling and Risk

If you’re an avid cyclist, you should be thrilled with the benefits referenced above.

Your favorite pastime could reduce your chances of getting cancer, heart disease, dementia, and other fatal conditions.

You might expect the effects of your cycling habit to stop there, but in reality, it could have a major impact on your ability to protect your family in the event of your death.

Life insurance is all about risk.

When a company decides whether or not to accept your application for coverage and underwrite your policy, their main goal will be to assess the risk you pose to them.

While cycling presents a number of health benefits, it also comes with unique risks.

Risks of Cycling

Like any physical activity, you could overexert yourself and suffer from a cardiac event.

To combat this risk, Dr. Albana Greca at iCliniq recommends taking caution where needed and starting cycling at your own pace based on your heart function.

Greca also explains “calves muscles cramps are one of the most common complaints of cyclists, which can be relieved by taking magnesium.”

These concerns are not the main risk associated with cycling, though.

The primary risks of cycling involve the environment and traffic accidents.

While cyclists are exposed to pollutants in the air and hundreds are involved in traffic accidents each year, the pros of cycling far outweigh the cons.

Research shows cycling can add years to one’s life, whereas the likelihood of death by a traffic accident or pollutants is minimal.

When it comes to getting life insurance coverage, you can relax.

Cycling will not negatively impact your ability to get quality, affordable life insurance. In fact, it could help.

If you’re looking to reduce the risk of an accident while biking for your own good, consider the following:

  • Wear the right gear: Wear breathable cycling attire with reflective surfaces so drivers and pedestrians can see you coming. This should go without saying, but always wear a helmet!
  • Buy the right bike: If you’re planning on riding through rugged mountain terrains, you need a suitable bike. Also, consider comfort and invest in a saddle if your pelvic bones need more support.
  • Pick your location wisely: Take advantage of bike paths and lanes whenever they’re available and at the very least, familiarize yourself with new areas.

Furthermore, if your location isn’t ideal for cycling, Pav Byran recommends you:

Take cycling indoors, where it can be brought to life through immersive game-like experiences like Zwift and RGT Cycling. Whether you are looking to ride real life roads, far out landscapes, or anything in between, it is now possible, and safe, from your living room.

Risk Factors Life Insurance Underwriters Consider

When you apply for life insurance, companies will consider the following health factors, which could be good news for cyclists:

  • Healthy weight: If you can show that you’ve maintained a consistently healthy weight for some time, you could get better life insurance rates.
  • Heart health: Underwriters will assess your heart health, which you can strengthen with frequent cycling.
  • Blood pressure: High blood pressure usually equates to higher rates. You can keep hypertension at bay by biking regularly.
  • Cholesterol: Hand in hand with the factors above, the company will check your cholesterol, which you can improve by cycling.

The factors above are crucial to underwriting, but they aren’t the only ones your life insurance provider will consider.

They will also dig into your age, gender, and your family’s health history, which you can’t do much about.

If you have any medical conditions and medications, you can expect them to be factored into the underwriting process as well.

While cycling isn’t considered to be a high-risk hobby, other activities like bungee jumping, scuba diving, and car racing are.

If you work in a particularly dangerous field, your career could negatively impact your access to life insurance, too.

How Cyclists Can Save Money on Life Insurance

Cycling can do more than just reduce your risk factors on paper.

A handful of life insurance providers are willing to give lower life insurance rates to people who are dedicated to their health.

Health IQ is passionate about rewarding cyclists for their hard work and connects them with those companies.

With a quick set of questions, Health IQ assesses your health, cycling literacy, and your cycling habits.

They utilize that information to get you the best rates, using your responses to offset other risk factors like family health history, high overall cholesterol, and hypertension.

Final Thoughts

Living a healthy lifestyle with consistent exercise could add years to your life, affecting everything from your immune system to your joint health to your monthly bills.

You don’t have to compete in the Tour de France to tap into some of these rewards, either.

It doesn’t matter if you’re off-roading in the mountains or pedaling in place at the gym. Just get moving!

If you’re serious about cycling, take advantage of the savings it could present on life insurance coverage.


Parker King

Parker King is a researcher and editorial writer with a Masters in Professional Communication from Clemson University. She has years of experience in the nonprofit sector and writing in the world of personal finance, insurance, and other topics.

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