From Legs to Lungs: The benefits of cycling are many
Blue skies and a car-free bike path = heaven on earth. (And good lung-healthy, low impact exercise.)
Every August, World Lung Cancer Day reminds us all the importance of a vital organ that does not often receive the attention it deserves. Vital organs are essential to human survival, so why not look into improving the health of your lungs? As bicycle lovers, it's pretty easy.
The American Lung Association recommends exercise and breathing techniques to improve lung capacity and function. Physical activity such as bicycling strengthens your heart, allowing blood to pup into your lungs more efficiently. As heart rate increases cycling up a steep hill, your lungs absorb more oxygen, which allow more oxygen-rich blood to reach your muscles, improving lung function. In fact, focusing on deep breathing while bicycling is particularly beneficial to overall respiratory health.
Although exercise is commonly associated with losing weight or promoting heart health, regular physical activity improves quality of life in those with or without a lung condition. For the average adult, it’s recommended to have thirty minutes of moderate exercise, at least 5 days per week.
How does bicycling benefit lung health?
While bicycling two of your most important organs (the heart and lungs) are in action and work harder to bring oxygen into the body, providing energy and removing carbon dioxide. Bicycling improves lung capacity – the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use and lung function – the metric determined by the capacity of air your lungs can sustain and how quickly you can move air in and out of your lungs. Lung functions are also responsible for how well the lungs funnel oxygen and remove dioxide from your bloodstream.
When you think of it, once lung function fails or stops, it’s done forever and may never function again. However, lung capacity can be controlled and improved by 5 to 15 percent with exercise and physical activity such as bicycling. Lung function cannot necessarily be improved, but endurance and lung capacity absolutely can be.
If you have a long-term lung condition the thought of becoming quickly out of breath can be daunting and may diminish motivation to exercise, but regular exercise for those with long-term lung conditions can improve symptoms and bicycling provides an aerobic workout easy on joints that builds muscles and triggers endorphins that improve mood. Harvard Medical School’s Dr. Clare Safran-Norton comments on bicycling, “It’s socially oriented, it’s fun and it gets you outside and exercising.” “The benefits carry over to balance, walking, standing, endurance and stair climbing.” Additionally, pedalling builds bone. “Resistance activities, such as pushing pedals, pull on the muscles, and then the muscles pull on the bone, which increases bone density,” says Dr. Safran-Norton.
What about air quality?
While at rest, the average adult will breathe fifteen times a minute to consume 12 litres of air, but while bike riding (depending on the level of cycling), your lungs will breathe 40-60 times a minute to consume 100 litres of air. The nose warms and humidifies the air before it reaches the lungs, filtering out pollutants, but the nose cannot catch everything.
Air pollutants can thicken the linings of the lungs and can even scar, causing diminished elasticity and lung function. Certain airborne pollutants such as asbestos fibers can even lodge into the lining of the lungs to develop an aggressive rare disease up to 10 to 50 years after the asbestos fibers were inhaled or ingested. Particulate matter inhalation can lead to a variety of respiratory health concerns, and radon gas and cigarette smoke are the leading causes of lung cancer, taking the lives of more people than those diagnosed with breast cancer, colon cancer and colorectal cancer, combined. Consider filtering indoor air and checking the quality of your air in your community to consider your long-term lung function health.
Summer biking tips for lung health
Lungs prefer moist, warm air. Sports physiologist for the US Olympic Committee performed a study with cross country skiers and found that repeated exposure to cold, dry air can damage lung tissue and become scarred from repeated exposure. For additional biking tips and recommendations follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
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