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The top 5 benefits of cycling

August 11, 2016

Going for a ride is good for your heart and muscles, and it may improve how you walk, balance, and climb stairs.

benefits of cycling
Image: DTStockPhotos

They say you never forget how to ride a bike, so maybe it's time to climb aboard a two- or three-wheeler and enjoy the health benefits of cycling. "It's socially oriented, it's fun, and it gets you outside and exercising," says Dr. Clare Safran-Norton, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Check out the main physical benefits.

Safety considerations

Get the okay from your doctor before you climb aboard a bike, especially if you have heart disease, arthritis, or thinning bones. "If you have osteoporosis, consider riding a tricycle, which is more stable than a two-wheeler, posing less of a fall risk," says Dr. Safran-Norton. "Don't ride a bike at all if you've had a recent fracture. Another fall could make it worse."

When riding, remember that the seat height should allow a slight bend at your knee. "You don't want a straight knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke, because the bike could be too tall and you could fall off," says Dr. Safran-Norton.

Other tips: Wear a helmet to protect your head; don't use clips to keep your feet on the pedals, which can make injuries worse if you fall; don't ride alone; stick to bike paths instead of riding in the street; stay hydrated before, during, and after your ride; and use sunscreen and sunglasses.

Tips to choose equipment

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You probably know that a helmet is a must for safety. The right type of clothes and bike will also make cycling safer and more comfortable.

Cycling clothes. These have high-tech fibers that wick away moisture. They are usually neon-colored, with reflective material so you'll be visible to drivers. Bike shorts have a thick pad or chamois to prevent chafing and provide cushioning.

Bikes. Look for one that puts less stress on your body, such as a beach cruiser or comfort bike. They have high-rise handlebars that enable you to sit upright, wide tires for a smooth ride, shock-absorbing seat posts, and low top tubes so you don't have to swing your leg too high to mount the bike (allow at least an inch or two of clearance between you and the tube). If mounting a bike is difficult, there are even "step through" bicycles that feature top tubes just six inches off the ground (see photo).

Other bike types include tricycles, which are helpful if you are less stable on your feet, and recumbent bikes that allow you to lean back and ride. "If you have spinal stenosis, a recumbent bike puts your spine in a flexed position and gives you pain relief. But if you have a herniated disk, the bike can make the disk bulge more," says Dr. Clare Safran-Norton, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Saddle. Get one with extra padding that's wide enough to support the pair of bones you sit on. Go even further with a saddle that relieves pressure on the perineum, the area between those bones, behind the genitals. It's home to nerves and arteries that supply the lower body, and too much pressure here may cause numbness and tingling in the legs. Pressure-relieving saddles may have a "noseless" or horseshoe design.

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