Increasing numbers of people are taking up cycling – and that healthy choice isn't just improving their fitness and helping them whizz through traffic jams.
British Cycling estimates that the total number of regular adult cyclists has now risen to more than two million, and new reports have found that travelling on two wheels has far more health benefits than just the obvious cardiovascular ones.
1. It keeps you young
Firstly, it seems cycling could add years to your life - a study has revealed that many older fit amateur cyclists are physically much younger than most people of the same age.
Extensive physical tests on more than 120 cyclists aged between 55 and 79 at King's College, London, found the effects of ageing on them were far from obvious.
The older cyclists in the study had similar levels of muscle strength, lung power and exercise capacity to the youngest members.
2. Healthy eating
Plus, a survey of nearly 10,000 cyclists by the UK’s leading cycle-to-work provider Cyclescheme, has found that cycling has a snowball effect on eating habits, alcohol consumption and tobacco intake - 48% said they ate healthier since taking up cycling to work, 29% said they'd drunk less alcohol, and 20% said they'd smoked less.
3. Improved happiness
Possibly as a result of this healthier lifestyle combined with improved cardiovascular fitness, 42% of the people surveyed said they'd become ill less frequently since taking up a two-wheel commute.
In addition, 47% noticed improvements to their mental health, and half noted lower stress levels.
4. Reduces heart disease
It's well-known that the cardiovascular benefits of cycling are huge - the British Medical Association says cycling just 20 miles a week could reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by as much as 50%.
5. Good for the joints
But as if all that wasn't enough, there's also potentially huge benefits for muscles and joints. Cycling is a low-impact exercise, and its motion is stimulating for the cartilage within a knee joint. So as well as giving a good muscular and cardiovascular workout, cycling can loosen up stiff joints.
Arthritis Research UK says cycling is very good for strengthening the knees and for general fitness, but warns that people who get a lot of knee pain may have to take it very gently at first.
6. Weight loss
Cycling is also a great weapon in the fight against obesity because of the calories it burns. Indeed, NHS Choices estimates that someone who weighs 80kg (12st 9lb) will burn more than 650 calories with an hour's cycling, and tone their legs and bottom. Riding up hills or off-road, will also work the upper body.
7. Saving money
Cyclescheme predicts that if just 10% of journeys were made by bike instead of car by 2025, the NHS would save £2.5 billion and the nation would gain a combined equivalent of over a million years of healthy living.
Furthermore, through reductions in sick days and increased productivity, the UK economy could save £830 million over the next decade if cycling to work continues to increase.
Grey Giddins, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at BMI Bath Clinic, says: “Those who commute by bike, and therefore exercise regularly, are less likely to smoke and drink heavily and become ill less, showing a snowball effect on other areas of our health.”