Bicycle and body
Cycling exibits many positive effects on our body and soul, since regular physical activity has beneficial impacts on preventing and treating chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus, pulmonary diseases, osteoporosis, motor diseases, cancer, depression, anxiety, obesity, ... Research has also shown positive effects of cycling on our mental abilities, as regular cycling improves concentration, cognition and efficiency as well as increases working productivity and protects against stress ... Our psychophysical fitness is improved, and regular and properly dosed exercise helps us to regulate our body weight. It enables independence even in the advanced age, improves quality of life and prolongs our lifespan.
Cycling in the city
Cycling in the city has many advantages, as the bicycle might serve us as an efficient means of transport when running the errands and it can be used as a means of transport on the way to work/school and back, thereby saving us a lot of time. It enables us to avoid traffic congestions and do something good for ourselves; usually, it is easier to park a bicycle than find a parking space for a motor vehicle. Using a bicycle protects environment without polluting it, and noise in the city is reduced. However, when cycling in the city, traffic regulations must be strictly obeyed in order to avoid unnecessary traffic accidents.
Cycling in nature
If you would like to relax and enjoy symbiosis with nature, cycling in nature is an ideal solution. Cycling in nature can be much more relaxing and usually healthier than cycling on the city roads full of traffic, as there is not so much motor traffic and fresh air can be inhaled. Nevertheless, cycling in nature might provoke some troubles if we suffer from allergies. If we are allergic to pollen or grass, it is reasonable to avoid them or to protect against their action with proper medications. Cycling in nature requires special attention in order not to end up with a fall and consequent injuries.
Cycling on a stationary bicycle can be an ideal substitute for outdoor cycling when weather conditions prevent it (cold, rain, snow, heat).
It is a suitable and safer way of cycling for target populations such as pregnant women, old people with poor coordination and balance, untrained cyclists and patients and injured people, for whom indoor cycling might represent a form of rehabilitation.
First aid on a bicycle
When cycling, it is also very important to use your "head" and protect it with a helmet, and take at least the basic first aid set along in order to be able to act in case of injuries.Falls are the most common cause of injuries in cycling; first, possible bleeding should be stopped, which can easily be done by pressing a sterile pad over the bleeding spot.In cases of more serious injuries seek medical attention.
Food and beverage
Replacement of fluids is also very important in cycling. Drink enough prior to the beginning of cycling and continue to replace fluid during and after the activity. If we do not sweat during cycling, it is enough to replace the lost fluid withby water; however, if the activity is more intense and/or prolonged, the lost electrolytes should also be replaced. The beverages should not contain caffein, alcohol or be carbonated. When we feel thirsty, dehydration has already occured, so it is important to replace fluid regularly and constantly.
What a cyclist eats is also very important. The diet should be healthy and balanced. Five meals per day should be consumed, and the day should begin with a lavish breakfast. More intense cycling should not begin before 1-2 hours after an abundant meal.
How intense, frequent and long-lasting should cycling be?
For beginners and health-threatened people, moderately intense exercise is recommended (i.e. we warm up and get out of breath slightly), which means that we are physically active at least 30 minutes 3 to 5 times per week. Physical activity can also be divided to several shorter segments per day, of which each segment should not be shorter than 10 minutes. Experienced and healthy cyclists may cycle more intensely (get out of breath and sweat considerably) for 45-60 minutes every day or every other day.Physical exercise is too intense if we cannot have a normal conversation during cycling or say five consecutive words without having to take a breath. For those who wish or must monitor their heart beat (e.g. health-threatened people, patients), use of heart beat monitors during cycling is recommended.
Testing of physical fitness before the beginning of cycling
For beginners, physically inactive people, health-threatened people, men over 40 and women over 50 years, it is recommended to measure their physical fitness before they start cycling. We recommend to all of the abovelisted to participate in free 2-km walking tests conducted in numerous Slovenian towns in the spring and in the autumn by health care centres within the scope of the health counselling programme. It is good to monitor the progress in physical fitness every six months.
Warning signs to terminate cycling exercise
If you recognise any of the signs such as pain in the chest, joints, neck, mandible or along the left arm, dizziness, nausea, excessive fatigue, heart beat disturbances or breathing difficulties, stop cycling and talk to a health professional before continuing.
How much and when to rest
Rest depends on the psychophysical fitness of every individual. However, it is important to make a pause during more intense and/prolonged cycling and stretch leg muscles and replace fluids. If additional rest is needed, take it.
Warming up and cooling down
It is very important to warm up before beginning of intense and prolonged cycling. Warming up should last 5 to 15 minutes and should include simple dynamic warming exercises and stretching exercises to prevent injuries. Stretching prevents microinjuries and muscle pain. In order to prevent such consequences of an intense training, cycling should also be terminated with cooling down, lasting for 5 to 15 minutes and including stretching and relaxation. The purpose of cooling down is also to prevent nausea upon the rush of blood into the brain and heart and to prevent blood congestion in the joints.
Written by: Andrea Backović Juričan and Mojca Janežič, members of CINDI Slovenia