Bicycling for Healthy Blood Pressure
Riding a bicycle outdoors is one of the great pleasures of summer—and it can be enjoyed by almost anyone. Like walking, cycling can be a great baseline exercise for improving and maintaining cardiovascular health and lowering blood pressure.
When cyclists peddle, their leg muscles move up and down, veins are compressed, and blood is pumped to the heart, making cycling an excellent choice for a healthy circulatory system, greater endurance, and a more efficient metabolism. Cycling is a “broad-spectrum” sport, appropriate for both people in peak physical condition and those just starting to become physically active. It’s an activity that naturally lends itself to rest intervals, with regular stops for hydration or a quick energy snack. The level of difficulty is easy to control: beginners can start out on a flat road and then slowly ramp up to rolling terrain.
Cycling can be not only a leisure activity but a way to get to work—and a healthy one. A 2011 study published in the British Medical Journal Current Opinion in Cardiology found that “cycling for transportation was associated with an 11 percent reduction in cardiovascular disease.” In New Jersey, bicycle commuting is more popular than ever and on the rise, according to a May 2014 American Community Survey Report issued by the U.S. Census Bureau.
“I am an avid cyclist,” says John M. Dalena, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Summit Medical Group. “Cycling boosts cardiovascular health and lowers blood pressure. Another advantage is that it raises overall endurance and strengthens leg muscles, which has a direct impact on vascular health. Cycling has the advantage of being a low impact sport, so it is easy on the joints.”
Cycling is also good for mood. It gets people outside in the fresh air and sunshine, and it’s a social sport. Bike clubs provide a great way for people who are at the same fitness level to enjoy riding together, and they also offer other opportunities, such as get-togethers and workshops on riding and bicycle repair and maintenance. There are more than 24 established bicycle clubs listed on the New Jersey Department of Transportation website, and ample cycling opportunities across the state.
Safe cycling begins with a consultation with your physician to make sure that you are a good candidate.
- Wear a helmet at all times.
- Choose roads and cycle paths with light traffic volumes.
- Protect your eyes from wind and insects with sunglasses or specialized cycling goggles.
- Dress in comfortable, breathable clothing.
- Take plenty of water with you. You can buy a water-bottle holder for your bike so you can sip and ride.
- Avoid slipping on your peddles by wearing shoes with a good grip.
- Make sure that your bicycle is tuned, greased and ready to roll.
As with any sport, it’s important to learn proper technique to optimize exercise and prevent overexertion and muscle strain.
The correct sitting position for cycling is critical. The saddle must be adjusted so that there is still a slight bend in the knee when peddles reach their lowest level in order to avoid hyperextension of the joint.
Cycle on a low gear. Even the pros cycle on a lower gear and have a quick cadence (rate at which peddles are rotating), rather than putting the bike on the highest possible gear and pushing down hard.
For maximum efficiency, peddle at a consistent rate.
When you start to ride, take a few minutes to adjust the gears in small increments to the most comfortable personal speed. To build endurance, pick up the pace for short intervals—or try a slightly more challenging terrain.
At the end of the ride, gradually reduce your pace.
In order to avoid tension and the shortening of muscles and tendons, it is advisable to stretch after you dismount.
Although steady-state low or moderate intensity exercise is traditionally recommended for prevention and treatment of hypertension, several recent studies have shown that higher intensity exercise may be superior for improving cardiorespiratory fitness and arterial stiffness in hypertensive patients, so high-intensity cycling may be a good ultimate goal if you enjoy the sport.
The key to healthy cycling for people with hypertension is having regular medical check-ups to monitor blood pressure, so your cycling will take you on the road to good health!