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Is Bicycle Riding a Good Way to Lose Weight?

by Britta Kallevang

Cycling is an effective way to get in shape, lose weight and build lower-body muscle. As opposed to running, biking is low impact and easier on the joints. That means fewer injuries, aches and pains that could prevent you from meeting your weight-loss and exercise goals. Bike riding is also an effective choice if you want to easily vary your workouts.

1. Versatile and Accessible

The National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute recommends that individuals with a body-mass index (BMI) greater than 25 lose weight to reduce risk of disease. Because people of diverse sizes can bike for exercise, it’s an ideal activity for weight loss. Some overweight individuals may find biking for exercise more comfortable than walking, especially if they feel less stress in the hips, back or other parts of the body. Compared to walking, it’s easier to increase your heart rate by cycling. A higher heart rate indicates greater calorie burn, which can be beneficial for losing weight. On the same token, beginner cyclists can keep the intensity low until they have built an aerobic baseline by using lower gears.

2. High-Intensity Interval Training

Current research suggests that high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, an alternating mix of short bursts of intense exercise and rest, benefits heart health at least as much as moderate-intensity, longer workouts. The workouts last between 20 to 30 minutes total, including warm-up and cool-down. The American College of Sports Medicine reports that the fat-burning effect achieved with HIIT lasts between one and a half to 24 hours post-workout. Even better, you burn more in this post-workout burn than you would after a steady-state workout.

3. Bicycling and Calorie Burn

During an HIIT session, a cyclist alternates between high and low intensities and a corresponding variety of speeds. The warm-up and cool-down take about 10 minutes total. A 150-pound cyclist moving somewhere between 5.5 mph and 12 to 13 mph for the warm-up/cool-down period, will burn between 45 to 91 calories. Intervals constitute, on average, about 20 minutes of the 30-minute workout. Depending on her level of fitness, the 150-pound cyclist may reach between 12 to 13 mph and 16 to 19 mph during intervals. She'll burn 181 to 272 calories for 20 minutes at these speeds. So on average, she'll burn approximately 68 calories during the 10-minute warm-up and cool-down, and 317 calories during the 20-minute interval period. That's 385 calories in 30 minutes. In comparison, the same 150-pound individual walking at a steady 3.5 mph for 30 minutes will burn about 129 calories, and 340 calories when running 6 mph, or a 10-minute-mile pace for 30 minutes.

4. Motivation and Weight Loss

The take-away is this: If you enjoy riding, you'll do it. It’s much easier to commit to exercise when you look forward to it, thereby supporting a healthy lifestyle and weight loss. If boredom ensues, consider changing your routine. If you have the right gear, you might try doing your workout on the road or mountain trail. When you bike outdoors, you get lots of fresh air and vitamin-D-rich sunlight. You also challenge your body and mind to maintain balance, an effort that has its own health benefits. Some cyclists feel more motivated to push the intensity outside, whether the terrain is hilly or flat. Others live for spin class. They prefer the controlled climate and safety of an indoor, stationary bike, and push themselves harder in a group setting.

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