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Cycling and Cancer: Do it for your physical and cardiovascular health

Remember when you were a toddler, seeing a tricycle for the first time? Then you laid eyes on a bike (and couldn’t wait to get the training wheels off). How many childhood adventures began by grabbing the handlebars and pushing the pedals? And now, as an adult – cycling again can be your getaway.

Healthcare officials suggest 150 minutes of exercise each week. Now, you’re probably thinking, “Wow, that’s a lot of time to commit to sweating.” Consider this: That’s about 21 minutes each day. With 1,440 minutes in a day, we’re talking 1.45% of your time. … C’mon, you can do it – and do it by pedaling.

Once you learn how to ride a bike, you don’t forget. Cycling does not require professional skill levels of physical fitness; you’re not training for the Tour de France. Still, a plus for these low-impact sessions is that all major muscle groups are engaged as you pedal.

OK, so maybe you don’t have the desire to “ride” a bicycle. You still can cycle; there is a myriad of options that fit the bill. And exercise trumps the inactive lifestyle that raises the risk of cancer, heart diseases, diabetes, and other diseases. [1]

Benefits of Cycling

Because you are using the major muscles of the body, cycling will improve your strength and stamina. Your aerobic fitness also will benefit. While building up endurance, the intensity of your workouts may increase. Really, it’s up to you: a low-intensity pedal or a rigorously physical, sweat-inducing excursion – it’s up to you.

A review of 16 cycling‐centric studies found cycling beneficial for overall fitness and lowering cardiovascular risk factors. [2] Cycling for 2½ hours each week is a low-impact way to improve your health. (Low-impact exercise causes less strain on the body and is associated with fewer injuries than more vigorous types of workouts.)

To be sure, cycling is a fun way to reclaim your health. Getting outside your neighborhood, cruising downhill, pumping uphill … being outdoors is an opportunity to clear your head and see the world. And let’s face it: cycling is much more invigorating than being sedentary watching TV and snacking.

Also, physical activity is a protective effect against depression, as well as positive health gains such as physical performance and cardiovascular improvements. [3]

A 2017 study published in the British Medical Journal found that commuting via cycling was associated with a lower risk of all-cause mortality and adverse cardiovascular disease and cancer outcomes. [4]

Types of Training Bikes

There are three types of training bikes, and each offers advantages and perks to suit your goals:

UPRIGHT – features a conventional riding position – a standard bike seat – with no back support. (These bikes are well-suited for people who want a comfortable workout – not a high-intensity training session.)

RECUMBENT – you are in a reclined position – with a broader, more comfortable seat – and the pedals are in front. (This helps even your body weight distribution.)

INDOOR CYCLING – These are the cream of the crop bikes, designed for riders to sit or stand. Indoor cycling bikes are for high-intensity interval training and fat-burning workouts. (These bikes often are showcased in exercise groups or spinning classes.)

There are several different bikes from which to choose.

Among the features to look for with an indoor bike is the ability to track time, distance, speed, resistance, and heart-rate monitoring. You also may want to keep up with calories burned; it's truly a personal preference.

Some bikes also offer built-in programs for training courses and videos.

Cycling with Cancer

LUNG CANCER – Researchers at Jilin University in Changchun, China, evaluated 16 randomized controlled trials to determine the effect of exercise on early-stage lung cancer patients' quality of life. The data indicates that exercise may benefit these patients’ strength and endurance while decreasing emotional issues. The effectiveness is affected by the length of time exercising, frequency, intensity, and adherence to a regimen. [5]

BREAST CANCER – In August 2020, a study was released comparing meta-analysis between usual care and aerobic training in women with Stage I or II breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy. In two of the studies, chemo was neoadjuvant (used before the primary treatment), seven of the studies were adjuvant (used after primary treatment), and one study combined patients. As expected, results showed aerobic training for cardiorespiratory fitness increased the maximum rate of oxygen consumption vs. no exercise. [6]

For breast cancer survivors, aerobic exercise may be beneficial, including cycling. The Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention looked at 12 studies that compared aerobic exercise with usual care among breast cancer survivors. The research showed that aerobic exercise could significantly improve the quality of life in breast cancer survivors. The aerobic exercise also relieved the symptoms of depression and anxiety. [7]

COLORECTAL CANCER – Data from five English-language and five Chinese-language studies, encompassing 934 patients, showed medium-intensity exercise as effective for preventing cancer-related fatigue and improved the quality of life of colorectal cancer patients who had recently undergone surgery to treat the disease. [8]

Expanding Your Community

Randomized controlled trials have proven the efficacy of exercise in improving cancer patients’ quality of life, including community-based programs. After all, no one understands a cancer patient like someone also dealing with the same hurdles.

While cycling – whether on the open road or with a stationary bike – there are many benefits you won’t think about, including relieving stress, building muscle, and maintaining a healthy weight. Also, remember: Cycling is low impact, so it is easy on your joints.

So, grab a helmet and mount up. Cancer is a journey, and along the way, you can pedal toward improved physical condition and overall better cardiovascular health.

Continue With Step 5

References

[1] Sedentary Behavior: Emerging Evidence for a New Health Risk. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2996155/

[2] Health benefits of cycling: a systematic review. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21496106/

[3] Active Commuting and Depression Symptoms in Adults: A Systematic Review. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7037710/

[4] Association between active commuting and incident cardiovascular disease, cancer, and mortality: prospective cohort study. https://www.bmj.com/content/357/bmj.j1456

[5] Effect of Exercise Interventions on Quality of Life in Patients With Lung Cancer: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32301933/

[6] Aerobic Exercise-Induced Changes in Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Breast Cancer Patients Receiving Chemotherapy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7463807/

[7] Benefits of Aerobic Exercise for Breast Cancer Survivors: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7063018/

[8] Effects of Moderate-To-Vigorous Physical Activity on Cancer-Related Fatigue in Patients with Colorectal Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32111495/