Pedal Power: Modest Amounts of Bicycling Show Big Benefits for Weight Control

Walking has long been the preferred mode of exercise for a good many people, but the results of a new study may have bicycling give it some competition. 

The large Harvard study published this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine (study) found that modest amounts of bicycling could help significantly stem weight gain in pre-menopausal women, particularly in those who are already overweight.

Weight gain is a huge battle for most people and simply slowing the regular weight gain most of us experience over the years can have huge health benefits, lowering the risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

The study – part of the Nurses Health Study II – followed  over 18,000 pre-menopausal women over six years and found that 30 minutes a day of bicycling and 30 minutes a day of brisk walking each had very similar and significant weight control benefits.  Yet, while lean women were much more likely to go on a brisk walk than overweight or obese women, both overweight and lean women were similarly likely to go for a ride on their bikes.

The real standout finding in the paper, though, was the weight control benefit of riding just five minutes a day.  While riding greater amounts had even more benefit, steadily riding just five minutes a day had a real impact on weight over the six year period.

Exercise can be a daunting challenge for many, but as this paper helps show, it really doesn’t have to be.  Any amount of activity is better than none, and can even have big benefits.

Of course, to get the full health benefits of exercise, and to actually lose weight and maintain it, requires more effort – 30-60 minutes a day – and these are levels we should all shoot for.  But we don’t need to get there in a single bound.  Five minute could be a good place to start.

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