Benefits of Cycling: 8 Reasons to Hop on a Bike ASAP| Well+Good


I have a theory: Part of the reason why Nordic countries continually top lists of the worldโ€™s happiest countries has something to do with how bike-friendly they are. I donโ€™t have research to back me up on this exact claim, but the benefits of cycling are clear. As you glide along as fast as your feet can pedal, you get a legit cardio workout that can give you a major mood boost, especially if you do it with friends. Plus, it’s far more funโ€”and less headache-inducingโ€”than driving or taking public transportation.

โ€œThere’s nothing quite like the cardio you experience on the bike,โ€ says Peloton instructor Hannah Corbin. Whether you take an indoor cycling class or head outside for something more scenic, cycling has a lot to offer. And it’s not just the Nords who love it: Cycling has been steadily gaining popularity in the United States, will more than 54 million people riding a bike at least once in 2022.

Ready to reap the benefits of cycling yourself? Read on to see what the science and experts say, plus how to get started if youโ€™re a newbie.

The 8 biggest benefits of cycling

Science and experts agree that there are many advantages of cycling. Here are a few of the biggest ones.

1. It could help you live longer

If youโ€™re on the fence about whether or not to take up cycling, hereโ€™s something that might persuade you: A 2023 review1 published in Frontiers in Sports and Active Living showed strong evidence that cycling is associated with a lower risk of death from all causes, plus a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes.

2. Cycling is a low-impact form of cardio

What makes cycling so healthy? As a form of cardio exercise, cycling is one of the safest ways to boost your aerobic fitness without hurting your joints. โ€œCycling is a fantastic exercise to reduce impact while ensuring your cardiovascular fitness can be optimal,โ€ says Palak Shah, PT, head of physical therapy services at Luna, an at-home physical therapy provider.

Unlike running, another popular cardio exercise, cycling doesnโ€™t involve the impact forces that lead to many running injuries. This can be a relief for tender joints. However, you do miss out on the bone-building benefits of weight-bearing impact.

3. The versatility is pretty unbeatable

One of the major benefits of cycling is its adaptability. Do you like to work out indoors or outside? Want to keep things easy or turn up the gas? Are you craving a solo sweat sesh or feel like being social? You can do it all by cycling.

โ€œItโ€™s anything your heart desires,โ€ Corbin says. Indoor cycling classes like Pelotonโ€™s might also include some light weight work so you can incorporate upper body strength training, too. Check and mate.

4. You can get an exercise high

Anyone whoโ€™s ever hopped on a bike has likely felt the mental benefits of cycling firsthand. Long periods of moderately hard aerobic exercise are known to release feel-good chemicals in the brain: endorphins, endocannabinoids, dopamine, and serotonin. โ€œAnd that helps in reducing stress, and it helps in improving moodโ€”getting the โ€˜exercise high,โ€™ as you will,โ€ Shah says.

5. Outdoor rides immerse you in nature

When we spend most of our lives in air-conditioned boxes, going for a bike ride outside can be a great antidote. Cycling coach Colby Pearce, a former US record holder and Olympian, says that cycling outdoors is his โ€œGoldilocksโ€ strategy to getting out in nature.

โ€œI love to go hiking and running, but I’m limited in the amount of nature I can see without a really big time investment,โ€ he says. โ€œI could also jump in my car, but then I’m not immersed in it as much. But on the bike, it’s sort of this happy middle ground where you can go quite far, especially as you gain fitness.โ€

Science has shown over2 and over3 that this kind of exposure to green spaces has proven benefits for our mental health.

6. You can gain (or regain) fitness safely

Cycling is a smart way to help you get back on your feetโ€”literally. Shah points out that while you might have to wait two or three months to start walking after knee surgery, for instance, you could potentially start cycling after just one week.

โ€œWhen you haven’t really been [able to] exercise for a really long time, cycling provides you a safe environment to train up and get ready for whatever activity you plan to return back to,โ€ Shah says. โ€œCycling is a great way to get blood flow going, get your heart rate back, get the muscles reactivated and re-engaged, [and] get range of motion back.โ€

7. It can be a social form of exercise

Heading out for a bike ride offers an opportunity to connect with friends. โ€œYou get to bond, hang out with your friends, or meet new people,โ€ Pearce says.

Whether you join a local group ride or set up a riding date with someone close, cycling outside in particular can be a social sport that gives you time to chat while experiencing an adventure together. Bonus: Research shows sweating with a buddy can make you more motivated to work out, so youโ€™re more likely to stick with it week after week.

8. The planet and your wallet will thank you

The environmental benefits of cycling as a means of transportation may seem obvious, but the actual stats can be shocking. The Environmental Protection Agency says we could collectively save $900 million in driving costs and two million metric tons of CO2 per year (the equivalent of taking 400,000 cars off the road) if all Americans swapped out just half of our car trips that take less than a mile for a bike ride or walk.

Which body parts does cycling work?

Many people think of cycling as just an exercise for the legs. And while the lower body might get the biggest challenge, cycling can actually be a full-body workout. โ€œI’ve noticed that when I go for a particularly long, hard bike ride, just about everything hurts, which tells me that I’m using all the muscles at a certain point,โ€ Pearce says.

Your quads, hamstrings, hip flexors, and glutes are doing most of the heavy lifting. The calves and shins also pitch in to push the pedals. Pearce adds that the internal and external hip rotators help to keep the legs in proper alignment.

โ€œAt the same time, your core provides stability to your trunk,โ€ Shah says. And if youโ€™re heading downhill or leaning over while standing up out of the saddle, youโ€™ll feel your chest, shoulders, and upper back muscles turn on, too.

Indoor vs. outdoor cycling

Is indoor or outdoor cycling better for you? Well, the answer depends on what youโ€™re looking for.

Pearce points out that an indoor cycle gives you more control over the intensity and specificity of your workouts. โ€œYou can precisely control your power and your heart rate and your cadence,โ€ he says.

When you head outside, on the other hand, variables like hills and wind and traffic can dictate how hard you ride. And, importantly: โ€œOne thing that we easily avoid is danger,โ€ Corbin says of Peloton workouts. Thereโ€™s no traffic to dodge during an indoor cycling class.

Although you lose some control outdoors, you do gain other benefits, however. โ€œIt’s about navigating balance, being mentally present [as] you’re navigating through traffic or people and different terrains,โ€ Shah says. Of course, you’re also getting a healthy dose of fresh air. Pearce points out that if you cycle outdoors in the first half of the day in particular, the a.m. sun exposure could help your sleep cycle as well.

How to start cycling for beginners

Tempted to get started? Before you hop into a free online cycling class, there are a few tips to keep in mind when it comes to cycling for beginners.

Prioritize good positioning

As with any form of exercise, the most important thing is to listen to your body, especially when an activity is new to you. โ€œIf you have a back condition and if your posture is poor and you’re leaning over, it puts a lot of strain on your lower back,โ€ Shah warns.

Learn proper form, and back off if youโ€™re in pain (cycling knee pain is not uncommon). It can help to have a pro assess whether the pedals and saddle are in the proper position for healthy ergonomics to minimize the risk of overuse injuries. A professional fitter can also help you find the right-sized outdoor bike for your body.

Cross-train

Cycling is a great form of cardio, but for a well-rounded workout routine you need to balance strength training with indoor cycling. In particular, if you feel like youโ€™re not strong enough to maintain good form while cycling, Shah recommends cross-training with exercises like cobra pose to strengthen your upper back or hip extensions from tabletop position to train your glutes and core strength.

Set sustainable goals

How long should you cycle a day? โ€œMy recommendation is always to start with short sessions with a slower speed, about 20 to 30 minutes, three times a week,โ€ Shah says. โ€œAnd then gradually increase the duration and how frequently you do it.โ€

โ€œFind something that’s sustainableโ€”doing two classes a week for the next year is better than doing eight classes a week for the next month.โ€โ€”Hannah Corbin

Corbin says taking on too much too soon will only lead to burnout. โ€œThe most common mistake I see is people going from 0 to 100,โ€ she says. โ€œFind something that’s sustainableโ€”doing two classes a week for the next year is better than doing eight classes a week for the next month.โ€

Focus on how you feel

In the beginning, Pearce suggests not paying too much attention to your numbers, particularly your power metrics. โ€œThat can change your relationship with the sport,โ€ he says. โ€œObsession with the data and power can really detract from your joy.โ€

Instead, he suggests focusing on cultivating an internal sense of perceived exertion to track your fitness and how much you have left in the tank on each ride.

Get the right cycling gear

For indoor riding, the main piece of gear you need is an indoor bike or a trainer that can convert your regular bike for stationary workouts. If you get serious about cyclingโ€”either indoor or outdoorsโ€”clip-in shoes will help you pedal more efficiently, though theyโ€™re not totally necessary to start.

However, what is necessary is a helmet if youโ€™re headed outside. โ€œAnd you want it to fit correctly,โ€ adds Pearce. As professional bike fitter, he also recommends getting your outdoor bike sized properly. โ€œLook for a good local shop with experience,โ€ he suggests.

Recover right

Corbin reminds newbies to not forget about stretching and foam rolling after cycling. โ€œWith any repetitive motion, certainly with cycling, you have to release the things that you’re asking to perform on such a high level for you,โ€ she says.

Be prepared for the challenge

Accept that itโ€™s going to be hard to build up speed, no matter how advanced you get. โ€œGoing fast on a bike is painful for everyone,โ€ Pearce says. โ€œEven the people who are winning at the world level right now, they’re just going faster than you are, but they’re still suffering.โ€

Frequently asked questions

Is hand cycling a good workout?

Hand cycling (where youโ€™re pushing with your arms rather than your legs) is another way to get in a low-impact cardio workout. A hand cycle will work your upper body muscles, including your arms, shoulders, upper back, and neck. However, Shah points out that these are smaller muscles than those in the lower body. โ€œWhen you think about the kind of workout that you get, the large muscles getting engaged gives you a higher cardiovascular activity as compared to the hand bike,โ€ she says.

Who shouldnโ€™t cycle?

Given how safe cycling is, and the options you have between outdoor cycling, indoor cycling, and even hand cycling, this versatile activity can be safe and beneficial for nearly everyone. โ€œI cannot think of any population that should not cycle,โ€ Shah says. That said, if youโ€™re worried about a particular health condition or injury that might be affected by cycling, check with your medical provider.

What are the drawbacks of cycling?

Bikes donโ€™t come cheap, and if you really get into cycling, the cost of quality gear can add up. Outdoor cycling also comes with serious safety concerns, whether youโ€™re dodging traffic on the roads or hazards like rocks and roots on the trails. That said, dedicated cyclists will tell you that the rewards are worth these risks.


Well+Good articles reference scientific, reliable, recent, robust studies to back up the information we share. You can trust us along your wellness journey.


  1. Logan, Greig et al. โ€œBenefits, risks, barriers, and facilitators to cycling: a narrative review.โ€ย Frontiers in sports and active livingย vol. 5 1168357. 19 Sep. 2023, doi:10.3389/fspor.2023.1168357

  2. Barton, Jo, and Mike Rogerson. โ€œThe importance of greenspace for mental health.โ€ย BJPsych internationalย vol. 14,4 79-81. 1 Nov. 2017, doi:10.1192/s2056474000002051

  3. Pasanen, Tytti P et al. โ€œUrban green space and mental health among people living alone: The mediating roles of relational and collective restoration in an 18-country sample.โ€ย Environmental researchย vol. 232 (2023): 116324. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2023.116324



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