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Get on your bike to burn fat

Get on your bike to burn fat

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A new study has highlighted the benefits of cycling for weight control. Online personal trainer Andrew Cate looks at how you can incorporate more cycling into your exercise routine.

Cycling and weight control

Cycling is a great addition to your exercise program for burning fat and aerobic conditioning. Although cycling is not quite as effective as running or walking for fat loss because your weight is supported by the seat, you can still burn off a significant amount of kilojoules.

Cycling can strengthen and tone the muscles in your legs and buttocks, and it is very kind on your joints because cycling is non-weight bearing. Cycling can add variety to your exercise routine, and allows you to see so much more than you would while walking or running. For every hour of cycling, you’ll burn approximately 1200 to 1700 kilojoules depending on the gradient and speed of your ride. The fresh air in your face and the rhythm you can get into also makes it a unique and rewarding form of exercise.

The research

A study recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine followed more than 18,000 women for 16 years. The research found that bicycling was associated with less weight gain, especially in women who were overweight.

Women who did not bicycle at the start of the study (in 1989) but increased their bicycling by the end of the study (in 2005) were less likely to have gained weight, even if they had only cycled for five minutes a day.

The study also found that the greater duration of cycling, the lower the amount of weight that was gained. The smallest amount of weight gain was reported in women who cycled for at least four hours each week.

Comparatively, women who cycled for more than 15 minutes day at the start of the study but decreased cycling time by the end of the study gained more weight.

The researchers also noted that an advantage of bicycling as a mode of transport is that it could be an unconscious form of exercise, because the trip's destination is the goal, and not the exercise.

Did you know? Research has shown that there is a significant relationship between an increase in time spent bicycling and a gain change in weight.

Practical tips on how to cycle for weight loss

Research has shown there is a significant relationship between increased time spent bicycling and a reduced risk of weight gain. Here are a few tips on how to incorporate more cycling into your exercise routine.

  • Alternate cycling and walking/running as part of your exercise routine to provide variety and ease the burden on your joints. 
  • Try to include some interval training during your rides by using random landmarks to indicate the starting point for your intervals and rests. Things like a drive way, cross street, parked car or telegraph pole can be used to mark where you start and (further down the road) stop your intervals. 
  • You can also use hills as a type of forced interval. Really power up a hill, and pedal slowly to catch your breath at the top.
  • Drink from your water bottle frequently along the way. Taking regular, small sips is a good way to stay hydrated. You could even consider a hydration backpack if your rides last longer than an hour.
  • A computerised display can be a good accessory, allowing you to monitor your current speed, average speed, distance covered, duration of journey and kilojoules used. 
  • Safety is a major priority for cyclists, especially if you are on a busy road.  Always wear a helmet, wear bright colors and reflectors, follow traffic laws and ride like the drivers don’t see you. Make sure you have a light if you ride at night, and always be on the lookout for parked cars with opening doors.

Did you know? To incorporate cycling into your exercise routine, you can alternate it with other activities such as running, and also utilise strategies such as interval training to add even more variety.

References available on request