Cycling is growing in popularity, and the promise of radical new cycle designs in the near future may mean that more and more people will come to use these leg-powered devices for primary transportation as well as for sport. As with walking, cycling must be done quite vigorously if it is to work as an aerobic conditioner. That means a speed of about fifteen miles an hour, never less than ten miles an hour, on a flat surface. Cycling can provide an exhilarating feeling of speed and freedom and give you access to beautiful surroundings that will make your exercise time more enjoyable. It is also the preferred activity for those with bad knees. By strengthening knee muscles without traumatizing the joint, cycling leads to greater stability and a lesser chance of injury in the future.
A major disadvantage of cycling is the need to buy an expensive piece of equipment. Before you invest in a cycle, you should try out different kinds. Many that are designed for racing sacrifice comfort for a degree of speed you will never need. I much prefer to sit upright rather than hunched over the handlebars, a position that stresses my neck and shoulders. A cycle must be designed and sized correctly for your body, or it will cause you problems. Cycle seats are a particular difficulty. Uncomfortable ones can irritate your skin, leave your bottom very sore, and even injure nerves by compression. Even with the right bike and seat, jarring motion to the spine can aggravate prostate trouble in men and back problems in anyone with a history of them.
Although the actual physical activity of cycling is much safer than running, cycling can be very hazardous, depending on where you do it. The main danger is from motor vehicles, which greatly detract from the pleasure of a ride if you always have to share the road with them. Not only do you have to keep most of your attention on the cars rather than on the scenery, you also have to breathe their fumes. Cycling is much more attractive as a regular exercise if you can do it off road or have access to bike paths or roads with little traffic.
Outdoor cycling may not be available to you throughout the year, but you can always use a stationary bike in a health club or at home. These come in many models, some of them very expensive and with a lot of computerized gadgetry. The stationary bike is a good aerobic option for the home if you shop for one carefully. Try putting it in front of the television, or read a book while pedaling.
Indoor group cycling has become immensely popular at health clubs. It uses specially designed stationary bikes and participatory coaching to give an intense workout, made more fun by doing it with others.
Read more of Dr. Weil's articles and expert advice in the Exercise and Fitness setion.