Back to Fitness: Cycle Harder, Not Longer

Bike rides don’t have to be punishing to be good for you, but more intense cycling will maximize health and weight-loss benefits. As with walking, it’s the intensity of the ride that matters more than how long you ride for or how far you go.

Vigorous biking not only burns calories quicker than slower-pased peddling, but increases the amount of calories you burn throughout the day (moderate-paced exercise doesn’t lead to the same levels of after-burn). But it’s not just about burning more calories—researchers studying cyclists in Copenhagen, Denmark (one of the world’s most bike-positive cities) found that among habitual bikers, women with ‘fast intensity cycling’ outlived slower cyclers by about 2-4 years. Fast-cycling men outlived their slow-cycling counterparts by 5.3 years. Faster cycling was also found to be more heart-protective.

The researchers controlled for things like BMI, blood pressure, smoking, income, alcohol-intake and participation in other sports activities.

“This study suggests that a greater part of the daily physical activity in leisure time should be vigorous,” said Professor Peter Schnohr, who led the study. Schnohr and his Bispebjerg University Hospital colleagues have found similar results when looking at walking.

But how fast is ‘fast?’ You’ll know it when you’re doing it, I guess. “What matters is your own perception of intensity, leaving you a little breathless,” Schnohr said. ‘Our general recommendation would be that brisk cycling is preferable to slow.”

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