If you are tired of pedaling on a bike in the gym or endlessly walking on a treadmill, consider hopping on a bike. You can explore the area you live in, traveling farther than you could walking or running, with less impact on your joints. Cycling is a cardiovascular exercise and cardio is part of any heart-healthy or weight loss program. Talk to your doctor before beginning a new exercise regime, and find a bike that fits you properly to prevent injury.
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You may be wondering how and why your body gains weight and stores fat. Calories and fat are energy sources; calories that are not used immediately are stored as fat for later use. In the book "Ride Your Way Lean," author Selene Yeager states that one pound of body weight equals 3,500 calories. Typically, you need to create a calorie deficit-or burn or cut out-of 500 calories per day to lose one pound of weight per week. This equation is applied generally; your individual body composition, metabolism, and genetics may influence the amount of weight you lose every week.
According to "Ride Your Way Lean," cycling has several benefits in addition to helping burn calories. It can improve your mood; exercise increases levels of brain chemicals, like dopamine, that can lead to a boost in mood. If you are feeling happier, you are less likely to need to indulge in comfort food. Cycling more often can also increase your energy. "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise" published a study in February 2000 that investigated the effects of commuter cycling on employee physical performance. Results showed that even in subjects with a low fitness level, a 3 km commute proved to increase their physical performance. Thus, the more you exercise, the more energy you will have.
Cycling burns calories; how much depends on the duration and intensity of your ride. "Ride Your Way Lean" provides a chart that can help you determine how many calories you burn riding at certain speeds. Yeager advises taking your weight and dividing it by 2.2 to express it in kg. Then multiply it by the measurement used to denote the energy cost of activity, called METS. If you ride less than 10 mph, you work four METS; 10 to 12 mph is six METS; 12 to 14 mph equals eight METS; 14 to 16 mph is 10 METS; 16 to 19 mph is 12 METS and over 20 mph equals 16 METS. If you weigh 140 lbs. and ride 12 to 14 mph for an hour, you will burn 509 calories. Your calorie burn will grow exponentially with your effort. You will also burn calories for up to 12 hours after your ride.
Yeager discusses the benefits of maintaining steady cadence, or your pedaling speed as measured in pedal revolutions per minute. She states that by cycling in a lower gear at a higher cadence, you can spread out the workload for your body, making it easier to maintain pace over long distances. While pedaling with a hard gear will build more muscle -- the book claims it will also burn up stored fat quickly -- it will also lead to fatigue due to glycogen depletion. If the objective is to burn more calories, rather than fat, it can be more beneficial to find your cadence, usually between 80 and 100 rpm, rather than increasing your gear.
All riding is technically considered training; however, having a structured training program can help you track and stick to your weight loss plan. Also, monitoring your breathing and your heart-rate are helpful in understanding where your exercise limits are, and how your endurance is improving. Yeager recommends scheduling rides where you work out in intervals-steady riding interspersed with sprints and cruising. Find a day to put in a brisk ride, a steady ride, and a casual cruise. Monitor your heart rate and breathing to understand how much effort you are putting into the ride. Keep in mind how many calories you are burning, but also remember to enjoy riding your bike.