In certain cities, pink kits and hair flowing from the backside of a helmet might be a familiar site, but this isn't so common for much of the country. In fact, a 2009 National Household Travel Survey found that only 24 percent of all bike trips made in the U.S.. were by women. Compare this to other countries, such as Germany—where 49 percent of cyclists are women—and it's clear that while cycling's popularity has seen a rise, we still have a long way to go before men and women share the road equally.
Cycling is one of the most rewarding sports women can do—no matter your age or activity level. Here are 10 reasons why seeing the world from behind two handlebars can do your body (and your soul) some good.
1. It's good for your heart
A study from the British Heart Foundation found that cycling just 20 miles a week can reduce your risk of heart disease by half. You can achieve 20 miles of two-wheeled travel a week by simply riding to and from some of your regular errand runs, or by commuting to work once or twice a week.
2. It's good for your brain
An Illinois University study found that improving your cardio-respiratory fitness by a mere 5 percent led to a 15 percent improvement in mental test scores. The key lies in the boost in blood flow to the brain that activities like cycling generate. This blood flow can also be responsible for reducing cognitive decline and lowering the risk of dementia and Alzheimer's. Heading out on a ride can also do wonders for solving any mental blocks—studies show that this flow of oxygen stimulates the brain sparking neurons responsible for creativity and problem solving.
3. Make new friends
Cycling is both a fantastic solo sport and one that brings people together. Look for a local cycling club in your neighborhood and meet up for a weekend ride. Many bike shops offer no-drop rides for beginners, and heading out on the road with a group of like-minded individuals is a great way to relieve stress and make lasting friendships.
4. Look Younger
A Stanford University study found that regular cycling can protect your skin from UV rays and even reduce the signs of aging. Again, this has to do with powerful oxygen flow, which is delivered along with nutrients to skin cells, helping flush out harmful toxins. Exercise can also optimize your body's collagen production, which reduces fine wrinkles.
5. Sleep Better
There's nothing better for long-term health than getting enough rest at night, and studies have shown that a good way to get that needed rest is to get out on two wheels several times a week. A Stanford University study asked a group of sedentary insomniacs to cycle for 20 to 30 minutes every other day, and they found that this routine cut the time it took for participants to fall asleep in half. And participants reported sleeping for a full hour longer, as well.
6. Improve Digestion
Any active person will tell you that exercise gets your gut (ahem) moving in the right direction. Not only is cycling great for improving core stability, but experts at Bristol University found that regular riding can help decrease the amount of time it takes food to move through your large intestine. And the acceleration in your breathing and heart rate can help your intestinal muscles contract. This leads to an easier time passing stools and prevents bloating.
7. Improve Immunity
Going on an outdoor ride and breathing the fresh air can help keep you out of the doctor's office. According to research from the University of North Carolina, people who cycle for 30 minutes five days a week took half the number of sick days than their sedentary counterparts. The study concluded that moderate exercise helps keep immune cells more active, making them ready to fight off viruses more easily.
8. Have a healthier pregnancy
Years ago, doctors advised against exercise during pregnancy, but now they know better. Regular exercise not only keeps you from gaining excess pregnancy weight, but studies show it leads to easier, less complicated labor and a faster recovery post-delivery. This regular exercise also leads to better in-utero brain development and cuts the chances of your child becoming obese in half.
However, if you plan on riding after your first trimester, be wary of your changing center of gravity, which may make it difficult to safely balance on a road bike. Luckily, taking your ride indoors is a quick fix.
9. Cycling clothing Is A Lot Better Than It Use to Be
Fifteen years ago, most cycling clothing and commuter bikes weren't exactly the most "fashionable" things on the road (neon spandex anyone?). But this excuse no longer holds water. Today's cycling clothing has truly evolved, especially for women. Companies like Rapha, Betty Designs, Athleta and Skirt Sports offer riding-friendly attire that can easily go from the bike lane to the boardroom. And female-specific commuter bikes and fixies are all the rage on city streets these days.
10. Female empowerment on two wheels
Of all of the health and fashion reasons to head out on two wheels, probably the best reason is empowerment. Heading in from a ride, face flushed and brain buzzing, is truly one of the best ways to start your day. The strength you gain from regular cycling will translate into every other area of your life—from work to family to your friendships. And, at the end of the day, the feeling you get while passing a dude on your bike is worth every penny.
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