By Dr Amar Singal, Senior Interventional Cardiologist and Head, Department of Cardiology, Action Heart Institute, Sri Balaji Action Medical Institute, New Delhi
Do you know that just 20 minutes of daily cycling can almost halve your risk of dying from a heart related disease? Several studies have suggested so.
A study conducted by the Purdue University in the US concluded that regular cycling can cut your risk of heart disease by a whopping 50 percent. Similarly, the Copenhagen Heart Study which monitored over 5000 people over a period of 14 years found a major association between high intensity cycling and reduced risk of coronary heart disease death.
Cardiovascular diseases are responsible for over 30% of global deaths annually. In India too cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of deaths today, accounting for more than a quarter of all mortalities. The Global Burden of Disease study has estimated that CVD death rate in India is 272 per 1 lakh population which is higher than the global average of 235. Interestingly, as many as 50% of heart disease related deaths can be prevented – by adopting healthy habits and a hygienic lifestyle.
Much like smoking, physical inactivity is also a significant risk factor for heart disease. In fact, physical inactivity is associated with many of the leading causes of lifestyle diseases like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cardiac ailments and even some forms of cancer. According to World Health Organization, insufficient physical activity is 1 of the 10 leading risk factors for death worldwide. But while we count smoking as a serious health hazard, physical inactivity is hardly considered a life risk.
WHO recommends that adults aged 18–64 years should indulge in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity throughout the week. A daily cycle ride of just 20 minutes is sufficient to achieve this target.
So what are the benefits of cycling?
Cycling is one of the best cardio exercises for people of all age groups and all body types. It not only helps burn calories and keeps weight under control, but also helps build stamina and increase muscle and bone strength. Being a low impact exercise, it is also soft on the joints and unlike hard gym training sessions, it doesn’t put you at risk of overuse injuries or sprains. This is why it can also be taken up by elderly people who have arthritic joints.
At the same time, cycling is also a major stress relieving exercise, especially when undertaken in a congenial environment such as a park or a non-congested road. Regular cycling stimulates and improves your heart, lungs and circulation, reducing your risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Cycling benefits the heart by:
Ø Reducing the risk of high blood pressure: High blood pressure or hypertension is the most significant risk factor for heart disease. Persistently elevated levels of blood pressure have the potential to damage the blood vessels which causes heart attacks. Exercise helps keep blood pressure under check and cycling is the most potent cardio exercise.
Ø Reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes: Rise in incidence of type 2 diabetes is a major cause of concern in India. Physical inactivity and obesity are considered to be the leading risk factors for type 2 diabetes. Yet again, cycling is a very good way of keeping your weight under check and preventing diabetes.
Ø Keeping body weight under control: Obesity is today the key driver of hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases in India. Rise in the obesity epidemic including in young children is again attributed to physical inactivity.
Ø Managing stress: People who cycle regularly will tell you that it is a wonderful stress busting exercise. There is no other workout as calming as riding a bicycle in a green environment. Keeping stress under control is also important to check the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Ø Controlling cholesterol: Cycling when done regularly helps raise the levels of heart-protecting HDL cholesterol and reduce the levels of dangerous triglycerides.
Cycling is sustainable
What more, cycling can be adopted in daily life without actually demarcating time for exercise as it can be incorporated as a mode of transport. Rather than driving to your nearby store daily, you can peddle on your cycle for a few minutes. If your workplace is within a 5 km radius of your home, you can actually ride a cycle to work.
Overall, adopting cycling into your fitness regime is likely to be much more sustainable than usual exercise initiatives like gyms. Unlike other high intensity workouts, most people who take to cycling tend to stick to it for a lifetime.
So, what are you waiting for? Bring on your super two wheels and ride your way to a healthy heart.