Bicycle riding is undoubtedly a fun activity, which is why people of all ages engage in it. This is aside from the fact it is a reliable means of transportation in some terrains. What many of these cyclists may not know, however, is that they are actually getting many health benefits from their seemingly routine activity. Paramount among this is keeping Parkinson’s disease at bay.
Different research findings have affirmed this. For instance, a recent scientific study specifically proved that cycling will reduce Parkinson’s disease by at least 35 per cent. Another study also concluded that riding bicycle helps to reduce heart attack by an appreciable measure in adults. Yet another study says cycling enhances children’s mental wellbeing.
Cycling is the use of bicycles for transport, recreation, exercise or sport. Cycling may also be referred to as the act or sport of riding or traveling by bicycle. Those who engage in cycling are known as cyclists or bicyclists.
Cycling is a sporting activity recognised by leading athletes and medical experts all over the world. It was one of the 33 sporting activities contested in the last Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which was shifted to 2021 because of COVID-19. In fact, at the Olympics, cycling contests are in four categories: track cycling, road cycling, mountain bike and bicycle moto cross, popularly called BMX.
Karl von Drais, a German baron, is widely known as the father of the bicycle, as he developed a two-wheeled, steerable, machine in 1817. However, the wooden clunky prototype did not have chains, brakes, or pedals at the time; instead the rider propelled the frame forward by pushing it off the ground with their feet. Karl called his invention then “Laufmaschine” (running machine). The invention was later developed on to what we have today.
Cycling officially began as a sport on 31 May, 1868, with a 1,200-metre race between the entrance and fountains of Saint-Cloud Park in Paris. The United States followed suit with its first recorded race on 24 May, 1878. An intense form of racing also became popular in the United States, with a competition that lasted for six days, involving an international field of riders as participants and prizes reaching up to $10,000.
Today, cycling has become a global sport. In Nigeria, it is one of the recognised sports with an independent body, known as the Cycling Federation of Nigeria (CFN). The body was established in 1972 as the national governing body of cycle racing in Nigeria. CFN is also a member of the International Cycling Union and African Cycling Federation.
However, aside from being a form of livelihood or competitive sport, bicycle riding can also be for recreation or leisure. Whichever way or form, it is an activity that is packed with immense benefits. For starters, cycling is an effective way to become physically active. It is on this basis that fitness campaigns, such as “Ride to Work Day” is held in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia and other places, to encourage people to add more cycling to their routines.
In fact, the United Nations, as part of its quest to affirm the goodness of bicycle riding has made 3 June World Bicycle Day. According to the UN General Assembly, the decision was to acknowledge the bicycle as a “simple, affordable, reliable, clean and environmentally fit sustainable means of transportation, fostering environmental stewardship and health.”
The UN also declared bicycle riding to be “a means of fostering sustainable development, strengthening education, including physical education, for children and young people, promoting health, preventing disease, promoting tolerance, mutual understanding and respect and facilitating social inclusion and a culture of peace.”
In addition, a recent study on Parkinson’s disease patients to know the relationship between cycling and the disease showed that cycling will reduce the disease by about 35 per cent. Parkinson’s disease (or Parkinson’s) is a disorder of the central nervous system that affects movement, often including tremors. The disease causes nerve cell damage in the brain which makes dopamine levels to drop, leading to the symptoms of Parkinson’s. Parkinson’s often starts with a tremor in one hand; other symptoms are slow movement, stiffness and loss of balance among others.
In the study published in Lancet Neurology (November, 2019), a team of researchers from Netherlands recruited 130 adults, aged 30 to 75 years, with early-stage Parkinson’s disease to either ride a stationary trainer at home or perform an at-home stretching routine three days a week for 45 minutes over a period of six months.
At the end of the observation period, those in the cycling group were fitter and had significantly fewer Parkinson’s symptoms, such as tremors and muscle and motor control issues. The study also showed that a spirited indoor cycling session may be as effective as medication for managing early stages of Parkinson’s disease.
Another study, titled “Cyclical Lower Extremity Exercise for Parkinson’s Trial”, was carried out by researchers at Cleveland Clinic, in Ohio, United States of America. The study, a multi-site clinical trial is a five-year, $3 million grant, funded by the American National Institutes of Health.
The study’s principal investigator, Jay Alberts, PhD, said the study was to determine whether long-term, high-intensity aerobic exercise could slow the advancement of Parkinson’s disease. About 250 participants were recruited to participate in the study. The participants were overseen by teams at Cleveland Clinic and experts from the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, USA. The result showed a drastic improvement in patients with Parkinson’s.
Aside from helping to prevent Parkinson’s, researchers have also said that cycling pumps blood around the body at a greater rate, which allows for the rapid spread of endorphins and other “feel-good” hormones like dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. Also, All Kids Bike, a not-for-profit foundation, noted that cycling promotes positive mental health, especially in children, as it takes advantage of the connection between physical activity and mental health.
Also, Dr Lindsey Hunt, in his work, “Biking for Your Brain: The Neurology of Cycling”, said “cycling helps stimulate regions of the brain such as the hippocampus, which plays a critical role in memory formation and spatial navigation. In addition to increasing grey matter, cycling has been shown to boost the brain’s white matter”.
Similarly, Better Health Channel, a centre managed by Victoria State Government Department of Health, Australia, together with Sport Medicine, Australia, affirmed that cycling can help to protect from serious diseases such as stroke, heart attack, some cancers, depression, diabetes, obesity and arthritis.
Among other benefits, the centre affirmed that cycling increased cardiovascular fitness, increases muscle strength and flexibility, improves joint mobility, decreases stress levels, improves posture and coordination, strengthens bones, decreases body fat levels and reduces anxiety and depression.
“Riding a bike is healthy, fun and a low-impact form of exercise for all ages. Cycling is easy to fit into your daily routine by riding to the shops, park, school or work”, Better Health Channel submitted.
Recently, the Lagos State Governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu, appealed to Lagosians to ride bicycles and also make use of other non-motorised means of transport, stating that non-motorised transport has many benefits.
The governor, while addressing Lagosians during the Car-free Day commemoration, on September 23, 2022, specifically asked people in the state to make use of bicycles because of the inherent health benefits, as stated above.