The healthy cyclist?

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As those of you who've been following my blog from the beginning will know, in order to fit some exercise in every day, I cycle to work in central London. Since I first started my new commute a few weeks ago, I've pretty much been cycling every day, come rain or shine. I absolutely love it and haven't yet been tempted to put the bike away for a day and hop on the train instead! 

Not only does cycling give me a guaranteed workout each day (twice a day) without having to find extra time, it makes me feel great, it wakes me up and engages my brain before work, it puts me in a good mood (well, most of the time anyway!), and it pretty much guarantees that I get to where I'm going in the same amount of time each day; no traffic, no tube delays!

As cycling is making me feel so fantastic, I've been wondering what the actual health benefits are for me and, as a result of my wonderings, I've been doing a little research. On the contrary, I've also wondered if there are any particular risks for me, particularly considering the traffic fumes I'm surrounded by and the fact I'm working the same muscles on a daily basis.  

Risks of cycling.... 

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Clearly one of the biggest risks of cycling is the danger posed by other road users. I had a close shave last week when a van that was parked in the cycle lane (meaning I had to swerve round it into the road to get past) opened his door without looking first. It was partly my fault because I shouldn't have been so close to the van (lesson learnt!) but it brought home to me how wary cyclists need to be on the roads. You might be a proficient cyclist and experienced road user but that unfortunately doesn't account for dangerous drivers. If you're not sure how to stay safe on the road, then I've found some helpful videos to watch (https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/commuting). If you can make sure that you're doing everything you can to stay safe, then you'll actively lower your risk.  

As with all forms of exercise, with cycling there's a risk of getting an overuse injury, particularly in the lower back or in the tendons and muscles of the knees. Slightly more worrying is that cycling can lead to nerve damage, particularly in the wrists (if they're bent upwards a lot) and also in other areas that are slightly lower down the body.... This can lead to erectile dysfunction in men and a lack of sensation for women...😳! Of course, cyclists can try to prevent all of this with the correct set up, equipment and by looking after the muscles that you're working on a daily basis by stretching, foam rolling and making sure you strengthen other muscles that you're not using as much on the bike. I also presume (and hope!) that these particular issues are more likely to occur in people who are doing a hell of a lot of cycling and not just a 30 minute commute each day!! That said, I'm definitely going to try to look after myself more than I have been in order to avoid any injuries. I don't want anything to stop me cycling (or doing anything else for that matter..!) now!!!

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Often when I'm stuck behind a London bus with its exhaust pumping fumes in my face, I wonder to what extent it's actually affecting my health. Fairly infrequently I see somebody wearing a Bane mask whilst cycling around but if I can avoid having to don one of those then I really would prefer to!! When commuting in a busy city, there's always a risk of breathing in the crap that's being pumped out by the surrounding traffic. However, what's really interesting to know is that the general consensus is that the benefits of cycling do still outweigh the risks, believe it or not. 

The health benefits...

Yep, as long as you stay safe, look after your bike and your muscles, and make sure you have the right equipment, then the health benefits of cycling apparently do outweigh the risks.

Cycling is great for the lungs, it puts a lot less stress on your joints than some other sports such as running, and doing it every day twice a day releases lots of endorphins, which can ultimately reduce stress! Just this Monday morning I felt lethargic, tired and totally unenthused about work, exercise...basically just life in general! But I forced myself to get on the bike and I felt better almost immediately. When I arrived at work I felt ready to go and much more positive than I did when I first woke up in a grouch. 

If you're still not convinced about cycling, how about this? If you want that peachy butt (you know, the Insta butt), cycling will help you on your way towards the toned butt you desire!!! I wouldn't quite describe my own as peachy just yet but I can definitely feel that my glutes and leg muscles have gotten stronger since I started cycling to work and I'm also starting to see the difference. Nicki Minaj better watch out!! For those of you who aren't really aiming for a peachy butt, it'll also do wonders for your legs.

This probably goes without saying because generally if you're fitter then you will have a better immune system in any event, but apparently cycling does also improve your immune system. Not to mention that you avoid the tubes and buses on which you're surrounded by all sorts of delightful bugs and germs!! Let's just say that if you want to continue blissfully going about your daily commute on the tube, don't start Googling "germs on public transport"....it's a tad gross and you may never get a train ever again!!! 

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I said above how I've been wondering about the risks posed by the air pollution when I'm cycling in amongst all of the cars and buses every day. Well, it turns out there are studies that have looked at the effects of traffic fumes on different types of commuters (including bus drivers and cyclists) and surprisingly the risks to cyclists were relatively low compared with other forms of commuting. Obviously there may have been other factors at play in said studies but the overall consensus appears to be that cycling is better for your health than not cycling, even accounting for traffic fumes. Some studies have shown that cycling offsets the risk of increased exposure to traffic exhaust fumes and can even add time to your life as a result of the health benefits it brings. I'll take that thank you very much!!! 

Finally...

Although there are some risks of cycling to work each day, there are always risks with commuting by any form of transport, and most of the risks associated with cycling are preventable to some extent. All I know is, cycling to the office makes me feel great and saves me precious time. Whether or not the studies are accurate and the health benefits really do outweigh the risks, I'm extremely glad that I took it up as a form of transport! If you have the opportunity to do it, I would recommend it to anybody that has a hectic life and struggles to fit in exercise!

I'd be really interested to hear from you if you have any useful insights or know anything more about the risks and/or health benefits of cycling. As always, if you have any stories relating to what I've nattered about above or about how you fit exercise into your busy routine, let me know!!