We've done the rounds of the recent local and international health research to bring you a wrap up of reasons to ride a bike.
Passing on bad habits
Only 7% of Australian children are getting their recommended one hour of exercise per day, according to new research conducted by The Heart Foundation.
The survey found that the main reasons for this number are a lack of interest, and a preference for electronic gaming.
And adults didn’t fare much better. Only 20% of those surveyed reached the lower adult threshold of 2.5 hours of exercise per week, suggesting a strong link between the lifestyle choices of a parent and their child.
National CEO of The Heart Foundation, Professor John Kelly was concerned with the findings.
“Levels of physical inactivity and sedentary behaviour in Australia remain worryingly high, which is a serious threat to our heart health and increases our risk of early death”, he said. “Making physical activity easier and more accessible for all is vitally important if we are to reduce ill health”.
Make it a double shot
Good news, bike riders, the flat white at the end of your ride is important for your health.
A study by the European Society of Cardiology has found that those who drank the most coffee had a lower risk of early death from any cause. Author of The Coffee Lover’s Diet, Bob Arnot, explained these results.
“We know now that the driving force behind many illnesses such as heart disease and stroke is inflammation, which is something polyphenols can help with,” he said. Coffee contains these polyphenols in high quantities.
Those who drink between two and four cups of coffee per day have a 20% lower risk of heart disease than those who drink less than two. Additionally, consuming coffee can significantly cut the risk of certain cancers.
The researchers also noted that their findings were dependent on the diet of their subjects, which could be a mitigating factor in the findings.
Our conclusion? Make your next one a double shot.
Removing obstacles will make us happier
Annual research conducted by Jean Hailes for Women’s Health has shown that 40% of women have been professionally diagnosed with depression or anxiety, and a majority of them are not achieving the recommended 2.5 hours of physical activity weekly.
On a positive note, three quarters of women described their own health and ‘good’ or ‘very good’. The majority visited their GP at a minimum once a year, and as a whole were more aware of their physical wellbeing than men.
But the biggest obstacles that women cited for not being physically active included feelings of ‘embarrassment’ and ‘not feeling good at exercise’. Research by the University of Connecticut has shown that light exercise can greatly reduce feelings of depression, which suggests that trying to remove these obstacles would go a long way to improving mental health.
Urban sprawl may hold us back
Urban sprawl is having a negative effect on our physical wellbeing, caused by a variety of factors. The biggest of these is that people living in the outer suburbs are more likely to face a longer commute to and from work, meaning that they are more likely to spend extended periods of time in their car.
Consequently, this means spending extended periods in a confined space without the possibility of exercise. Long commutes also result in higher levels stress and fatigue, both of which are major barriers to physical exercise. It can also mean people in these areas have less time to spend with family and friends, which has a domino effect on mental wellbeing.
On top of this, people living in outer suburbs may be further from good infrastructure and services, making it more difficult to stay healthy.
Research conducted by UNSW City Futures Research Centre found that one way to help combat this worrying trend as our cities continue to grow is to provide more readily green areas, particularly “free (or low cost) infrastructure for activities such as walking and cycling”.
There is a concern that if this isn’t addressed, the low-cost of housing in these areas will be offset by high long-term health costs.
Every ride is helping our brain
30 minutes on the bike can make your brain more “plastic” according to the researchers at the University of Adelaide. But don’t worry – that’s a good thing.
The study required focused on participants in their 20s and 30s, and required them to ride exercise bikes for 30 minutes before having changes in their brain functioning monitored.
The increased brain plasticity that was found is linked to improvements in both motor skills and memory. Associate Professor Michael Ridding was excited about what other possibilities the findings created.
“We know that plasticity is also important for recovery from brain damage, so this opens up potential therapeutic avenues for patients”, he said.
It has long been established that frequent exercise has positive effects on cognitive function, but this is the first study to suggest that just one standalone session can have an immediate impact.
Our love for cycling is in our genes
We may have our ancestors to thank for why we feel so good after a ride. New research conducted by the University of Arizona suggests that the answer lies in our evolution to hunter gathers.
Anthropologist David Raichlen says we should have suspected it all along.
“We think our physiology evolved to respond to increases in physical activity levels, and those physiological adaptations go from your bones and your muscles, apparently all the way to your brain”, said Raichlen.
The human transition to hunter gatherers demanded use of both physical mental capabilities for the first time, and that the two have been linked ever since. The necessity to perform tasks such as hunting and foraging to survive caused a positive response from the brain when such physical tasks are performed.
“If you start thinking about it from an evolutionary perspective, you can start to piece together why that system would adaptively respond to exercise challenges and stresses,” Raichlan added.
The new research goes some way to explaining the scientific reason behind the positive effects physical exercise has on us.
This study was published in the journal “Trends in Neurosciences”.