Biking to work yields more benefits than you think

Be prepared for the worst when cycling through traffic  Credit: Sara Weiner
Recently, the prestigious scientific journal Medicine & Science in Sports Exercise published a study showing the positive health effects of commuter cycling several times per week on physical performance.

Dr. Ingrid Hendriksen, from the Netherlands studied 87 male and 35 female employees who volunteered to cycle regularly to their work. Sixty-one participants commuted to work on bicycles for one year (cycling group); the others cycled only in the second half-year (control group).

A maximal exercise test on a cycle ergometer was carried out at the start of the study. The test was performed after six months and after one year to measure the maximal amount of leg strength the subjects could produce during cycling and also the maximal oxygen uptake (aerobic capacity) of the participants in the study.

After the first six months of commuter cycling, with a mean single trip distance of 8.5 kilometers and a mean frequency of more than three times a week, a significant increase of 13 percent was found in the leg strength in both sexes of the cycling group. The improvement in maximal aerobic capacity was significant for the male participants (6 percent increase) but not for the female participants (2 percent decrease).

At the end of the second half-year, the control group (the group that only cycled for six months during the second half of the year) also showed a mean gain in leg strength of 13 percent. Their maximal aerobic capacity declined in the first half year, but this was counteracted in the second half year and brought back to levels similar to the beginning of the year before they stopped riding for six months.

A dose-response relationship was found between two independent variables and the physical performance; the lower the physical performance at the start of the study and the higher the total amount of kilometers cycled, the higher the gain in leg strength.

For subjects with a low initial fitness level, a single trip distance of only 3-kilometers turned out to be enough to improve physical performance. The authors concluded that commuter cycling can yield much the same improvement in physical performance as specific training programs.

This study shows that when individuals begin cycling to work as infrequently as three times per week, they achieve a significant increase in aerobic fitness and leg strength.

This information is significant because many people say they do not have time to exercise, but adding cycling to work as a fitness program can net the same results as a trip to the gym to train on a bicycle ergometer.

Secondly, other research has shown that if one has a relatively short commute to work, they can actually save time on the bike. This especially true if the drive takes place on a route with heavy traffic.

Also, commuters can save significant amounts of money on gasoline and automobile maintenance. Lastly, an impact can be made on air pollution because of less carbon monoxide being released into the environment from automobile emissions.

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