‘Cycling is our best hope against obesity’

Expert opinion: Matthew Haines is a BASES-accredited sports physiologist and senior lecturer in health and wellbeing at the University of Huddersfield

(Image credit: chris catchpole)

Britain has an almighty weight problem, and we hear time and again that exercise can’t provide the solution — but I disagree.

OK, it’s true that the effectiveness of exercise for weight loss varies markedly between individuals, but for very many people cycling really is the ideal activity for keeping body mass in check.

Recreational cycling is low-impact and requires a high rate of energy expenditure over a relatively long duration. A Metabolic Equivalent or ‘MET’ is a measure of the amount of oxygen, and by association energy, consumed per minute during an activity, relative to rest. One MET equates to the energy required to do nothing.

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Moderate-intensity cycling uses about eight METs, while cycling at 14-20mph uses approximately 10 to 16 METs. Clearly, then, cycling is excellent for burning off surplus calories.

Of course, food intake needs to be controlled, too. However, trying to lose weight solely via dietary means will likely result in failure.

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Humans evolved to seek food; our drive to do so was essential to our survival — it’s hard-wired. Dieting (especially fad diets) is not a public health solution for societies where more than half of adults are overweight — typically, weight lost through dieting is soon regained.

With this in mind, the potential for cycling to contribute to a negative energy balance should make it a key strategy.

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What’s more, cycling is a virtually carbon-neutral, active transport solution that helps reduce pollution and congestion.

Both observation and intervention research show that commuter cycling results in improvements in cardio-respiratory fitness and a reduction in all-cause disease mortality, including excess weight and obesity.

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Arguably we should stop searching for a weight-loss silver bullet, which remains elusive, and instead find an approach that we might deem to be ‘good enough’. Cycling fits the bill.

And as you lose weight, you not only reduce your inert body mass but also improve your aerodynamic profile — free speed!

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