cycling fitness

Everyday Cadence: The Fact of the Grey Matter

Welcome to Everyday Cadence - our first person account of daily rhythms on two wheels. 

Join Dara on her tube travels through time and space in and around NYC. A writer with a penchant for social justice, Dara is committed to making the world a better place  - whether it’s by adding more bike lanes, advocating for human and animal rights, building community through arts and culture, or just giving back.

Read what's on her mind and join the conversation with your own cadence recollection. 

On most days (save ice storms, rainstorms, sub-28-degree weather, or the “business” meeting that requires me to pretend that I’m an “adult”), I wake up, get dressed, toss a bag on my back, and a helmet on my head.

Then, I mount a thin piece of steel on wheels lined with rubber, and head out into the streets of New York City.

Instinctively, I’m dodging parents walking their kids, cars pulling out of parking spots, trucks unloading their morning bread and milk, buses meandering to their next stop,  passengers hailing cabs, cabs picking up passengers, doors swinging open, potholes, gravel, discarded everything, food carts, and, of course, other bikes competing for a small designated space.

There’s a lot going on.

Perhaps, I’m nuts. Perhaps, I’m flirting with danger. But I feel very, very alive.

As someone who grew up in NYC dodging cars and crowds on the streets (and perverts on the subways), it is second nature to bob and weave my way throughout the City.

And on my bike, I’m tackling the streets in a way that no pedestrian, car or bus-rider could. I’m feeling the rhythm of the traffic and flow in a way that is both necessary and impossible to miss. When I ride, I plot my route, I anticipate danger (best possible), and I am ready to respond.

Thanks to biking, over the years, I’ve gotten better at doing so -- and science even proves it.

Cycling helps build new brain cells in the hippocampus – the “grey matter” in your head that involves muscle control, sensory perception like seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making, and self-control. Sadly, this region deteriorates from the age of 30.

Luckily, regular physical activity can help keep thinking, learning and judgment sharp. Aerobic exercise helps maintain adequate blood flow, which supplies the brain with a steady stream of oxygen and nutrients (things we need).

And, in fact, researchers from the University of Illinois found that a five percent improvement in cardiorespiratory fitness from cycling led to an improvement of up to 15 percent in mental tests.

In other words: cycling is more than physically healthy for you. It makes your brain work better.

The thing is, we don’t always need science to tell us what we feel.

Sure, I’ve had some foibles, but riding has improved my instincts and my reflexes. This translates into how I am in life: I’m trying to figure it all out, while staying the course. I’m increasingly aware of my surroundings, the people, and the nature (if limited) around me. I see how things work, and don’t work together. I’m trying to survive. Ideally, I’m smiling.

When I’m on the road bumping elbows (or pedals) with cars, trucks, pedestrians, crossing guards, and pigeons--all sharing some torn up asphalt for a short bit of time--I am most definitely woke.

So, while I may be just a teensy bit nuts to get on a bike everyday in a city known for its, shall we say, aggression, the fact of the grey matter is that both my body and my brain are in great shape.

 

Become a Lean, Mean Biking Machine

Last year there were around 66.5 million cyclists in America, each with their own reason for getting on a bike. For some it's simply a case of getting from one place to another, while others just enjoy exploring their neighborhoods on two wheels. But there are a growing number of people who are getting on their bikes to improve their fitness and strength, while building muscle.

Different types of riding, will affect which muscles you use more. For example, if the ground is hilly, the quadriceps will be working the hardest to power you up hills. Speed cycling, or cycling against the wind, will involve all of the leg muscles much more. And if you keep track of your fitness when you cycle, you can monitor your pace and distance as you ride. This will give you a valuable insight into your performance and technique and help you improve each time you get in the saddle.

Which Muscles Does Cycling Benefit?

Arms and Neck

While your legs provide power to your pedal strokes, your arms help stabilize your body and allow you to steer your bike. Biceps help to flex your arm at the elbow and act with your forearm muscles to rotate your arm. Your triceps help to straighten your arm and can help keep your body stable. While the neck muscles tend to be extended throughout the duration of your rides, so strengthening them to withstand this stress is important.

Quadriceps

The quadriceps have four muscles in the thigh. These muscles work together to extend your leg at the knee joint and to flex your leg at the hip joint. These actions occur each time you pedal.

Hamstrings

Your hamstrings are three muscles on the back of your upper leg, running from your pelvis to your knee joint. They bend your knee and extend your leg at the hip, acting to counter the movements of your quadriceps.

Calf Muscles

Cycling can help to strengthen your calves. Your calf muscles assist in flexing your feet from the ankle, providing extra power to your pedal strokes. These muscles can be strengthened with either standing or seated calf raises.

Glutes

You might be sitting on your glutes when you cycle, but you are still using them. All three of your glute muscles are involved in cycling and help move your legs laterally and rotate your legs at the hip joint. They also provide you with the necessary downward power for your leg strokes.

Core Muscles

While the power for your pedal strokes comes from your leg muscles, the muscles in your abdomen keep your body stable, insulating your upper body from the movement of your lower body. Your core gets a workout by preventing the motion of our lower body from causing your upper body to sway back and forth with each pedal stroke.

Making Each Ride Work Harder for You

You can make sure you are getting the most out of each cycle ride by checking that your seat is at the right level. Your knee needs to be slightly bent at the base of the pedal stroke when your foot is at a right angle to the floor. To avoid any injuries, always try to build up your speed slowly. And don’t be afraid to embrace hills if you want to improve your fitness, muscle tone and strength.

Get Back in the Saddle and Get Fit

There are many physical benefits to regular cycling. Going for a bike ride is good for your heart and muscles, and it may improve how you walk, balance, and even just climb the stairs. As well as burning calories and improving heart and lung functions, your muscles will get stronger and give you a leaner and fitter body that has more stamina.  
 

As proponents of wellness through cycling, LifeCycle aims to bring you the health benefits of cycling more regularly. Have any personal noted improvements related to cycling? Please share below!