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Health Benefits of Bike Commuting

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on October 06, 2022

You might dabble in biking for fun or exercise on weekends or holidays. But have you considered biking to work or school?

Studies show that if you swap your gas-guzzling car with a two-wheel bike, you might break a sweat during your commute. This will not only help you skip traffic, but you also gain physical and mental health benefits. It’s good for your pocket and the environment, too.

If you’re new to the concept of biking to commute but you’re ready to take a spin, here’s a quick rundown on how to get started, health benefits, and safety tips to get you going.

Health Benefits of Bike Commuting

Riding a bike to work or school is a great way to boost your overall health. In fact, researchshows that those who bike to work tend to stay slimmer and fitter than those who drive. That’s because they’re able to bump up their regular physical activity.

The benefits include:

It helps you maintain a healthy weight. Pedaling a bike requires you to use up stored energy. This burns calories. You’re able to do this even if you pedal on a flat surface at a slow, easy pace. For example, a 180-pound person who bikes 10-12 miles per hour for 30 minutes burns up to 240 calories.

The more active you are, you’re less likely you are to get chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes. It also lowers your risk for certain cancers like breast or colorectal cancer.

It’s good for your heart and lungs. Biking regularly has been found tostrengthen your heart muscles, improve blood circulation in your heart and lungs, lower your resting pulse rate, and cut down on blood fat levels. This reduces your overall risk for cardiovascular diseases.

Moreover, if you bike to work, your exposure to air pollution is two to three times lower than folks who drive to commute. It improves your lung health in the long run.

Biking builds muscle. The repetitive motion of cycling is a form of aerobic exercise. That’s because you need to put in some force and effort to push the peddle to move your body weight forward.

You’ll need to do this all while sitting up straight and maintaining balance. This engages several muscles in your body in your lower, upper body, and core. This helps to lean you out and makes your muscles stronger over time.

Biking improves balance and proprioception. When you bike, you need to sit upright and engage your core to keep yourself from falling sideways. This helps to improve your ability to maintain balance.

Additionally, cycling helps improve your ability to understand where your body is in relation to space, action around you, location, and movement. This is known as proprioception.

As you age, both balance and proprioception can decline. But biking helps you stay active and lowers your risk for fall injury as you age.

It can boost mental health and relieve stress. Biking releases feel-good chemicals in your brain called endorphins. This can make you feel better, especially if you’re under stress. Regular physical activity from biking also positively boosts your overall mental health.

Cycling can:

  • Improve your mood
  • Pump up your self-esteem
  • Lower depression and anxiety
  • Help you sleep better
  • Improve cognitive brain function
  • Improve your memory skills
  • Promote new thought patterns that can improve calmness and well-being

Financial Benefits

On average, Americansspend over $2,500 per year to get to and from work in a car. And according to AAA, Americans spend close to $10,000 per year to maintain a car.

Biking to work may require some upfront costs, especially if you need to buy a bike and basic accessories. But compared to driving a car to commute, the cost of owning a bike costs about $350. So biking to work can save you money.

It can cut down on expenses for gas, car payments, monthly car insurance, parking, and any car repairs or maintenance costs.

Some companies also offer commuter tax breaks if you choose to bike to work. But your employer will need to participate in a commuter benefit program. Check with your company if you qualify for such benefits.

Environmental Benefits

Biking to work is also good for the environment. When you bike to work, it can help:

  • Cut down on harmful chemicals and pollutants like antifreeze and motor oil.
  • Lower gas consumption. This then cuts down on harmful emissions like CO2 that pollute the air and contribute to climate change.
  • Reduce noise pollution from honking.

Fewer cars on the roads also means there’s less need to build more roads to accommodate them. This cuts down on runoff water that usually pollutes ground water.

How to Get Started?

First, if you don’t already have one, you’ll need to make an initial investment to get a bike with all the standard accessories like:

  • Helmet
  • Good brakes
  • Gears
  • Bike lock
  • Basket to carry your things if you need to
  • Headlight, especially if you’re planning to ride when it’s dark
  • Flat tire kit

To prepare your ride to work, you should:

Find the right bike. Bikes are available in several types and builds. For example, a road bike is a better fit to ride on smooth pavements. Whereas a hybrid bike is good if you plan to use it for work and switch to off-road for fun. If you’re unsure, ask an expert at a bicycle store for recommendations that fit your commuting needs.

Map your bike route. Not all roads have bike lanes. Try to choose a route where you do have a bike lane option. If not, opt for wider roads. Try not to bike on sidewalks or narrow roads. Avoid busy streets and large intersections. This way, you’re less likely to hit pedestrians or get hit by car drivers.

Test it out before start biking to work. This way you have a clear idea of the roads and what to expect. Don’t rush. It’s best to take your time and get to your destination safely.

Hand Signals for Bike Commuting

You’ll need to use you left hand to signal your turning direction and to stop.

Left turn. Stick your left arm out to signal that you’re about to turn left.

Right turn. Stick you left arm out and bend it upwards to signal a right turn. You can also stick out your right hand.

Stop. Stick your left arm out and bend it down at your elbow to signal that you’re coming to a halt.

If you’re about to pass bikers or people on the sidewalk or streets, yell “on your left” clearly and ahead of time so they can move out of the way for you.

Safety Tips When You Bike to Work

If you’re planning to bike to commute, here are a few safety tips you should keep in mind:

  • Wear a helmet at all times to protect your head and neck during a collision or an injury. Also, make sure it fits right.
  • Make sure your bike is in good working condition. For example, do your breaks work for both tires? Does your bell or light work? Do your tires have enough air? Make sure everything is screwed on tight and doesn’t wobble. If you’re concerned, have it checked out at a bike shop.
  • Pick a wide bike lane or not-so-busy street or route to work.
  • Find the right saddle and handlebar height for you. This will make the ride comfortable.
  • Check both sides of the road before you cross.
  • Don’t bike next to parked cars in case someone suddenly opens the door.
  • Wear reflective stickers on your helmet or put them on your bike. You can also wear a reflective vest to alert drivers when you ride in the dark.
  • Check and oil the chain regularly.
  • Always ride in the same direction as the traffic. Don’t ride against traffic.

If you’re just starting out or if you’re getting back on the bike after a long time, make sure to take it slow and don’t rush. Enjoy the scenery as you bike to work, follow road rules, and stay safe.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Washington State University: “Bike to Work: A Win-Win For Personal And Environmental Wellness.”

MensLine Australia: “Cycling – the exercise for positive mental health.”

Plos Medicine: “Associations between Recreational and Commuter Cycling, Changes in Cycling, and Type 2 Diabetes Risk: A Cohort Study of Danish Men and Women.”

MD Anderson Cancer Center: “5 health benefits of cycling.”

UCLA: “How Riding a Bike Benefits the Environment.”

AARP: “How Bicycling Can Save You Big Money.”

Nemours KidsHealth: “Bike Safety.”

Consumerreports.org: “Bike Buying Guide.”

Better Health Channel: “Cycling - health benefits.”

Mass.gov: "Hand Signals for Biking."

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