How can the humble bicycle and a bicycle ride play its part in our health?

Written on World Health Day by Gary MacGowan – Sustainability, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Manager, Pennine Events.

Knowsley Borough of Culture 2022

I started to write something about this, but then realised so many others have already done it, so why not let a few famous people help tell us why riding a bike is so good for our health, as Albert Einstein once said “Life is like riding a bicycle – in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

Many people don’t like cycling or they don’t like cyclists. But, cyclists are just people from all parts of society and cycling is an activity that helps us relax, see the countryside, or get from A to B in urban areas faster than with most other means of transport. It also keeps us healthy and is the most environmentally friendly vehicle out there, so it contributes to a healthy World. “Commuting by bicycle is an absolutely essential part of a day. It’s mind-clearing, invigorating. I get to go out and pedal in the morning and see life come back and rejuvenate every day” (James L. Jones, former US Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Barack Obama’s former national security advisor).

Cycling in urban areas can be a bit scary, but the more we cycle, the more confident we become and the more we explore the areas we live, the more we realise that there are cycle lanes and cut throughs that make a lot of our towns and cities quite easy to navigate by bike. But, if you don’t like cycling in the urban environment, try cycling in the country. And if you don’t like cycling on the roads, try cycling on the tracks and off-road – “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to ride up the hills and enjoy rolling down them” (Ernest Hemingway). If cycling a bike is too much effort, try an e-bike, they are currently out-selling e-vehicles and once you’ve tried one…you’re hooked! “Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride” (John F. Kennedy, late former American president).

Knowsley Borough of Culture 2022

Cycling is a low-impact exercise, so it can be easier on your joints, and regular cycling (including with an e-bike) helps you maintain a healthy weight and can reduce the risk of a number of serious illnesses including heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke (NHS Inform). If you cycle regularly, you can expect to be as fit as an average person 10 years younger and on average, regular cyclists live two years longer than non-cyclists – “Riding a bike can add days to your life, but riding a bike can also add life to your days.” (Unknown).

Many will say that cycling is good for the mind and their mental health – Albert Einstein certainly agreed when he came up with the theory of relativity and quoted “I thought of that while riding my bicycle.” Cycling can certainly boost your mood, improving the symptoms of some mental health conditions like depression and anxiety “When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.” (Arthur Conan Doyle).

Yeah, but you can’t cycle in bad weather, right? “To me, it doesn’t matter whether it’s raining or the sun is shining or whatever: as long as I’m riding a bike I know I’m the luckiest guy in the world” (Mark Cavendish, British professional World Champion cyclist and the World’s greatest ever cycle race sprinter).

So, in terms of World Health Day, the power of the bicycle is good for our health in so many ways and cycling our bikes is good for our planet too. The bicycle is still loved throughout the world and globally, more bicycles are sold than cars – as Carl Sagan, the great author and astronomer, once said “If the constellations had been named in the twentieth century, I suppose we would see bicycles.”

Almost half the UK population lives within one mile of a National Cycle Network route, and that network is longer than the UK’s motorway system. On a bicycle, you can travel up to 1,037km on the energy equivalent of one litre of petrol.

One last thought from HG Wells in these days of climate change and higher bills and all the other problems we face “When I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the human race.”.

Why not give cycling a try today?